Today New America released The Graduate Student Debt Review. The report displays statistics on debt levels of graduate students using data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. The report includes an error with respect to loan disbursements for graduate students (a figure that was not drawn from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study).
In order to provide context for graduate debt the text of the report includes an estimate for the share of outstanding total student debt that financed a graduate or professional degree. Because the U.S. Department of Education does not report such a statistic – and does not make data available to determine it – we must rely on a proxy for this important figure.
The report released today uses recent loan disbursements to infer that figure, showing that graduate student loans made up 40 percent of total disbursements recently (the balance was for other degrees). However, more up-to-date disbursement information show that the figure is 34 percent, not 40 percent.
Readers who interpret those figures as the actual breakdown of the student loan portfolio, as some have done, must recognize that the figures are proxies. The actual share of outstanding student loans belonging to graduate education could be higher or lower than one-year disbursements and one could make well-reasoned case in either direction.
We regret the error, particularly because the report is about debt levels by graduate program as reported in the NPSAS, not about the breakdown of outstanding student debt. That figure was provided for context.