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America's Young Adults: Special Issue, 2014

College Costs and Indebtedness

The net price of attending college and the debts students and parents accumulate are key to understanding the overall cost of a college education. College costs and indebtedness can affect students' ability to complete their education as well as the pathways students take following college completion or exit.14, 15 This indicator presents data on the net price of attending college (defined as the total cost of attendance minus grant aid16) and information on various types of loans, such as federal loans, non-federal loans, and Parent Loans for Undergraduates (PLUS).

Indicator Ed3.A: Average net price of attending college for full-time, full-year undergraduates ages 18–24 by dependency status, academic years 1999–2000, 2003–04, 2007–08, and 2011–12
Average net price of attending college for full-time, full-year undergraduates ages 18–24 by dependency status, academic years 1999–2000, 2003–04, 2007–08, and 2011–12

NOTE: The net price is calculated as the total cost of attendance minus grant aid. Data adjusted to 2011–12 dollars using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). Dependent and independent are designations of whether postsecondary students are financially dependent on their parents or financially independent of their parents. Undergraduates are assumed to be dependent unless they meet one of the following criteria: are age 24 or older, are married or have legal dependents other than a spouse, are veterans, are orphans or wards of the court, or provide documentation that they are self-supporting. Between 1999–2000 and 2011–12, between 10 and 11 percent of undergraduates were independent and the remainder were dependent.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

Indicator Ed3.B: Percentage of undergraduate students ages 18–24 in their fourth year or above who had ever received federal loans or Parent Loans for Undergraduates (PLUS), and the average cumulative amount borrowed in constant 2011–12 dollars, 1989–90 and 2011–12
Percentage of undergraduate students ages 18–24 in their fourth year or above who had ever received federal loans or Parent Loans for Undergraduates (PLUS), and the average cumulative amount borrowed in constant 2011–12 dollars, 1989–90 and 2011–12

NOTE: Cumulative Stafford loan amounts include federal subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, as well as any Supplemental Loans for Students (SLS) received in prior years. Direct PLUS loans are taken out by parents of dependent students and are used towards the students' undergraduate education. Average loan amounts were calculated only for those who took out a loan or loans, and refer to the specified category only. For 1989–90 data, total borrowed includes loans from family and friends.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

  • In 2011–12, the average net price of attending college for full-time, full-year undergraduates ages 18–24 was $19,700 for all students, $20,000 for dependent students, and $17,600 for independent students.
  • The average net price of attending college, after adjusting for inflation, increased by 24 percent from 1999–2000 to 2011–12 for all undergraduates (from $15,900 to $19,700).
  • The average net price of attending college was 24 percent higher for dependent undergraduates in 2011–12 ($20,000) than in 1999–2000 ($16,100) and 22 percent higher for independent undergraduates ($17,600 vs. $14,500).
  • The average amount of grant aid, which does not have to be repaid, increased by 43 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1999–2000 and 2011–12, from $7,100 to $10,200.
  • In 2011–12, about 68 percent of young adult undergraduates in their fourth year of college or above had received federal loans, non-federal loans, or Parent Loans for Undergraduates (PLUS, received by parents), compared with 50 percent in 1989–90.
  • The average total cumulative amount borrowed by undergraduates in their fourth year of college or above was higher in 2011–12 ($25,400) than in 1989–90 ($14,700), after adjusting for inflation.
  • The percentage of undergraduates ages 18–24 in their fourth year of college or above whose parents had received direct PLUS loans was higher in 2011–12 (20 percent) than in 1989–90 (4 percent).
  • The average cumulative direct PLUS loan amount borrowed by the parents of undergraduates in their fourth year of college or above was higher in 2011–12 ($27,300) than in 1989–90 ($8,700), after adjusting for inflation.

table icon YAED3.A HTML Table, table icon YAED3.B HTML Table

14 Choy, S.P., and Li, X. (2005). Debt burden: A comparison of 1992–93 and 1999–2000 bachelor's degree recipients a year after graduating (NCES 2005-170). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

15 Bettinger, E., and Baker, R. (2011). The effects of student coaching in college: An evaluation of a randomized experiment in student mentoring. NBER Working Paper No. 16881. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

16 Total cost of attendance is equal to the sum of tuition and fees, plus total non-tuition expenses. Non-tuition expenses are equal to the sum of books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses.