Speed Reads

Higher (cost) education

Unlimited government loans for grad students fuel skyrocketing debt burden

Graduates of top-tier master's programs are increasingly unable to make enough in their early careers to put a dent in their insurmountable student loans, a Wall Street Journal analysis reveals, thanks in part to a federal Grad Plus loan program with "no fixed limit on how much grad students can borrow."

Grad Plus, which students might use to cover the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses — is the fastest-growing federal student loan program, reports the Journal, with recent interest rates as high as 7.9 percent. "No-limit loans" produce graduate program cash cows, and prestigious schools benefitting from the increased interest and "free-flowing" money can raise tuition unchecked, the Journal writes.

The most extreme example is Columbia University, where recent MFA film alumni were saddled with "the highest debt compared with earnings among graduates of any major university master's program in the U.S," writes the Journal. Recent program alumni with federal loans had a median debt of $181,000, but half were making less than $30,000 a year two years after graduating. 

Similarly, but not quite as a drastic, a master's in publishing at New York University costs a median $116,000 in loans for a median early-career income of $42,000. University of Southern California's marriage and family counseling master's graduates "borrowed a median $124,000 and half earned $50,000 or less over the same period," the Journal reports.

At Columbia, faculty and staff have advocated for furthered graduate student aid for years, but all universities have an "incentive" to expand master's programs, and "face no consequences" themselves if students default on loans later. 

Said Zack Morrison, who earned his MFA in film from Columbia in 2018, "There's always those 2 a.m. panic attacks where you're thinking, 'How the hell am I ever going to pay this off?'" Read more at The Wall Street Journal.