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Undergraduate college student borrowing has risen dramatically in recent years, according to new data analysis from the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project.

Baccalaureates Increase Borrowing 50%

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Graduates who received a bachelor’s degree in 2008 borrowed 50% more (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than their counterparts who graduated in 1996, increasing the average figure from $10,138 to $15,425.

Meanwhile, graduates who earned an associate’s degree or undergraduate certificate in 2008 borrowed more than twice what their counterparts in 1996 had borrowed (average of $6,649 compared to average of $3,318).

More College Students Borrow More

In 2008, 60% of all graduates had borrowed, compared with about half (52%) in 1996. Furthermore, among 2008 graduates who borrowed, the average loan for bachelor’s degree recipients was more than $23,000, roughly 35% more than the slightly higher than $17,000 the average bachelor’s degree recipient borrowed in 1996.

For associate’s degree and certificate recipients, the average loan increased about two-thirds, to more than $12,600 from about $7,600 (all figures in 2008 dollars).

1 in 5 Baccalaureates Borrow More than $30K

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Almost one in five (17%) graduates with a bachelor’s degree in 2008 borrowed more than $30,000, compared to just 4% of associates degree holders and 3% of certificate holders. More than half (54%) of bachelor’s degree holders from private for-profit colleges, as well as 25% of baccalaureates from private non-profit colleges and 12% from public colleges, borrowed in excess of this amount.

More College Students Attending Private For-Profit Schools

Levels and rates of borrowing are typically highest at these institutions. During the past decade, the private for-profit sector has expanded more rapidly than either the public or private not-for-profit sectors. In 2008, these institutions granted 18% of all undergraduate awards, up from 14% in 2003.

Students who attend for-profit colleges are more likely than other students to borrow, and they typically borrow larger amounts. For example, 24% of 2008 bachelor’s degree graduates at for-profit schools borrowed more than $40,000, compared with 5% of graduates at public institutions and 14% at not-for-profit schools.

And although private for-profit schools specialize in different fields of study than do public and private not-for-profit schools, the differences in borrowing patterns persist within fields of study. For almost every field of study at every level, students at private for-profit schools are more likely to borrow and tend to borrow larger amounts than students at public and private not-for-profit schools.

Total Back-to-College Spending Rises 12% from ’09

In addition to spending more on tuition, college students are spending more on back-to-school merchandise, according to the recent National Retail Federation “2010 Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.” Spending on back-to-college merchandise in 2010 was expected to total $33.77 billion, up 12% from $30.08 billion in 2009 and 8% from $31.26 billion in 2008.

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