Beyond CUNY, Student Debt Swamping Other Graduates

September 6, 2013 | The University

Student debt has emerged as one of the nation’s most sobering economic and societal problems, as college costs have dramatically outpaced family incomes, education debt has mushroomed past $1.1 trillion, and graduates struggle to pay back their loans in a shifting and often disappointing job market.

Nationwide, about two-thirds of students earning baccalaureate degrees in 2011 graduated with loans averaging $26,600, according to Oakland, Calif.-based Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access & Success, which says the borrowing has increased about 5% annually in recent years. In New York State, the student-debt average was $25,851; 60% of 2011 graduates carried loans.

In contrast, The City University of New York’s affordable tuition and availability of financial aid — close to $1 billion awarded in 2012-13 — allow nearly 80 percent of students to graduate free of student loan debt, signifying a compelling, long-term trend: In great numbers, CUNY students manage to emerge from college with little or no loan debt in an era when their peers on campuses across the country increasingly find themselves already deep in the hole as they enter the job market or move on to graduate school.

Approximately 17% of borrowers were more than 90 days past due on student debt payments in 2012, a 7% increase from less than 10% in 2004, according to a February 2013 report issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), “Household Debt and Credit: Student Debt.”

More than 38 million student loan borrowers hold over $1.1 trillion in outstanding debt, most of it from federal loans and the remainder from private borrowing, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. At the end of 2011, according to a bureau/U.S. Secretary of Education report to Congress, more than $8 billion in private student loans were in default, and even more were delinquent.

Students at CUNY, however, are far less likely to graduate with such debt burdens. The key is CUNY’s affordable tuition, which ranks among the nation’s lowest compared with other public and private institutions, according to figures compiled by the College Board.

Financial aid also keeps the indebtedness of CUNY students strikingly low. Six in 10 full-time CUNY undergraduates, the majority from low-income households, attend college tuition free, due to the combination of relatively low tuition, full coverage by need-based federal Pell Grants and New York State TAP, and federal American Opportunity Tax Credits for which many middle-class families are eligible.

About The City University of New York:
The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847, the University is comprised of 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY School of Public Health. The University serves more than 269,000 degree-credit students and 218,083 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 300 high schools throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The University offers online baccalaureate degrees through the School of Professional Studies and an individualized baccalaureate through the CUNY Baccalaureate Degree. Nearly 3 million unique visitors and 10 million page views are served each month via www.cuny.edu, the University’s website.