Student Loan Borrowing Trends

The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization known for its top-notch education research and advocacy. Students, educators, schools, and advocates like me rely on the College Board and its team of dedicated scholars to provide the robust data and analysis needed to inform policy debates and decisions.

Education policy must be informed by facts, even when the facts aren’t pretty.

The Report: Trends in Student Aid 2018

Annually, the College Board releases Trends in Higher Education publications including Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid reports. The source for all the following information is: Baum, Sandy, Jennifer Ma, Matea Pender, and CJ Libassi (2018), Trends in Student Aid 2018, New York: The College Board.

Who is Borrowing and How Much Are They Borrowing?

In 2017-18, total annual education borrowing declined for the seventh consecutive year.

Undergraduate Borrowing Is Down

  • In 2017-18, 29% of undergraduates borrowed an average of $6,570 in subsidized and unsubsidized Direct Loans, a decline from 37% borrowing an average of $6,790 in 2012-13; in 2007-08, 30% of undergraduates borrowed an average of $6,360.
  • Federal education loans per undergraduate fell from a high of $5,830 (in 2017 dollars) in 2010-11 to $4,510 in 2017-18.
  • Students and parents borrowed $105.5 billion, down from $127.7 billion (in 2017 dollars) in 2010-11.
  • The number of parents borrowing PLUS Loans in 2017-18 was 12% of the number of undergraduates taking subsidized and unsubsidized Direct Loans, but the average parent loan was $16,450, 2.5 times as much as the average undergraduate student loan.
  • In 2015-16, parents of 9% of dependent undergraduate students borrowed through the Parent PLUS program.
  • The share of 2015-16 bachelor’s degree recipients who borrowed $50,000 or more for their undergraduate studies ranged from 7% of those who earned their degrees at public institutions to 32% of those who graduated from for-profit institutions. Overall, 11% borrowed $50,000 or more.
  • In 2016-17, the 59% of bachelor’s degree recipients from public and private nonprofit institutions who borrowed graduated with an average of $28,500 in debt.
  • Average debt among public four-year college graduate borrowers rose by 16% ($3,700 in 2017 dollars) between 2006-07 and 2011-12 and by 3% ($700) between 2011-12 and 2016-17.
  • Among private nonprofit bachelor’s degree recipients, the increases were 6% ($1,700) between 2006-07 and 2011-12 and 3% ($900) between 2011-12 and 2016-17.
  • The share of undergraduate students taking private student loans fell from 14% in 2007-08 to 6% in both 2011-12 and 2015-16.

Graduate Borrowing Is Up, But Below Peak

  • Although federal loans per graduate student declined from a peak of $19,180 in 2010-11 to $17,340 in 2014-15, they have now grown to $17,990 in 2017-18, representing an increase for the third year in a row.
  • Over 15 years, the percentage of postsecondary students who were graduate students increased from 13% to 14%.
  • The share of federal loans going to graduate students increased from 32% to 40% between 2002-03 and 2017-18.
  • Borrowing through the Grad PLUS program rose by 27% ($2.2 billion in 2017 dollars) between 2012-13 and 2017-18.


Private Student Loan Borrowing is Up, But Below Peak

  • Nonfederal education loans fell from about $26 billion (in 2017 dollars) in 2007-08 to $9 billion from 2009-10 through 2011-12, and rose to about $12 billion in 2017-18.

Repayment Rate Lags for Students from For-Profit Institutions

  • Sixty-seven percent of federal student loan borrowers who entered repayment in 2009-10 and 2010-11 after earning a degree or certificate had paid down at least one dollar of their loan principal after five years. This repayment rate was 41% for those who do not complete.
  • After seven years, 41% of borrowers from for-profit institutions had reduced their loan balances by at least one dollar. This repayment rate was lower than the one-year repayment rates in all other sectors.

Get our Financial Advisor Guide to Student Loans

Find out more about how you can avoid critical mistakes and liability. Get our guide to the student loan market and how you can address it through the knowledge gained in the CSLP Course. 


Request the guide


Heather Jarvis, JD

Written by Heather Jarvis, JD

Heather Jarvis is an attorney and a nationally recognized expert specializing in student loan law.  She has provided award-winning student loan education and consultation for universities, associations and professional advisors and is sought after for her sophisticated knowledge and accessible teaching style. Widely recognized as an expert source of information, Heather has advised congressional committee members and administrative officials on issues affecting student loan borrowers since 2005.  Heather graduated cum laude from Duke University School of Law in 1998.

Get CSLP Resources

Subscribe For Blog Updates

Recent Posts

   Listen on Google Play Music