Keeping college debt in check

Source: College Board, "Trends in Student Aid 2018," October 2018.

Almost 60 percent of students who graduated from public two-year colleges in 2015-16 did so without taking out student loans, according to an annual College Board study on college pricing and student aid trends. About 18 percent of associate-degree earners borrowed up to $10,000.

The study also noted that more than half of certificate completers who attended public two-year institutions graduated without debt, with 22 percent accumulating under $10,000 in debt.

Those figures are especially important as families gauge the cost of attending college and the potential return on investment.

At public four-year institutions, 31 percent of graduates took no student loans, with 11 percent taking loans up to $10,000, 14 percent borrowing $10,000 up to $20,000, and 18 percent borrowing between $20,000 to just under $30,000.

Getting aid

More than half of full-time students at public two-year colleges received enough grant aid to cover tuition and fees, which for the 2018-19 academic year increased on average by about $100 (2.8 percent) to $3,660, the study said. Fifty-six percent of independent students and half of dependent students did not pay any part of their tuition and fees.

Although grant aid and federal tax benefits more than covered tuition and fees at public two-year colleges, their students still faced on average $8,270 in out-of-pocket living expenses, the study said.

In 2016-17, public two-year students — who comprised nearly one-third of full-time equivalent undergraduate enrollment — received 34 percent of Pell Grant funds. But the study noted that students from this sector received less their proportionate share of funds from all other federal aid programs (see chart, above).

Time to degree

The study also examined how long it took students to earn their degree, with average enrollment extending beyond what is traditionally expected for the sectors. For example, the average enrollment period for earning a bachelor’s degree was 4.8 years at private nonprofit institutions, 5.2 years at public institutions and 5.8 years at for-profits. For public two-year colleges, the average enrollment time to earn an associate degree was 3.4 years.

The study noted that among both bachelor’s and associate degree recipients in all sectors, students who graduated from their starting institution spent less time enrolled than those who transferred to other institutions.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.