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Rutgers Generates Highest Grad School Debt of Any Public University

Report: RU Only Public Institution to Crack Top 20 Schools For Grad Student Debt
Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Rutgers University is the highest generator of graduate student debt, according to a report by the public policy thinktank, the Center for American Progress (CAP).

The study found 20 school across the United States that held one-fifth, or $6.5 billion of graduate student debt from federal loans during the 2013-2014 year. 

Rutgers is responsible $192 million of debt.  Coming in at 19th place, it was the only public university on the list. 

The report suggests that Rutgers made it the list due to the large number of graduate students, almost 20,000, as well as the relatively high tuition compared to other state university graduate programs.

After Rutgers, the next public school to appear on the list is University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, with $177,708,750 in federal student loans.

"However, if you combined UM’s Twin Cities and Duluth campuses [$18,067,218]—for a total of $195,775,978—its graduate student loan debts would rank slightly above Rutgers," a press officer for the think tank said.

The 20 universities, despite the high level of student debt they hold, still only constituted 12% of the graduate student population across the United States.

“This is a tremendous concentration among a very small group of institutions,” said Elizabeth Baylor, director of postsecondary education CAP and author of the report, adding that the 20 schools "have capitalized on the growing demand for higher levels of education credentials, encouraging more debt in the process." 

At the top of the list is Walden University with over $750 million in federal loans. Walden is a private for-profit school that specialize in graduate degrees, and is owned by Laureate Education. 

Many of the other schools on this list are private for-profit colleges, such as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University, Kaplan University, Capella University and Grand Canyon University. 

For-profit colleges have often been condemned for the low employment rate of graduates, high tuition, and a high default rate on student loans. 

The report identified what the authors considered five "prestigious nonprofit colleges" which made the top 20 list: New York University, Columbia University, Georgetown University, George Washington University and the University of Southern California.

With many of the schools, the debt did not go to students pursuing professional degrees in law and medicine, but instead with master's degrees in fields like journalism, fine arts, government, and the sciences.

“For some of these schools, they’re likely admitting a lot of master’s degree students, charging them full-freight without any type of institutional aid, and then using that revenue to propel the rest of the organization,” Baylor told BuzzFeed.

“Degrees in medicine at traditional medical schools offer a clear path to a career with very positive economic outcomes. It’s an expensive education to deliver and the cost students bear makes some sense," she added in an interview with the Washington Post.

"However, an online master’s degree, which is cheap to deliver—from an institution with uncertain career outcomes—may not merit unlimited graduate loans...  Policy makers should consider how much graduate lending is sustainable and examine the value of graduate credentials," Baylor said.  

Public records show that the amount of graduate student debt at Rutgers has more than tripled since 2010, when it stood at over $77 million.

Back then, Rutgers was ranked 18 among public universities and 62nd overall in its amount of graduate student debt. 

"Part of the reason Rutgers makes the top twenty is because its New Brunswick and Newark and campuses are reported together," Baylor told New Brunswick Today. "However, its biomedical and health sciences campus is reported separately, which would further add to its total figure of graduate student loans."

School officials said that the number is largely a result of two medical schools, two law schools, two business schools, and many other graduate programs.

As we reported last week, the Rutgers Board of Governors approved a 2.4% tuition hike for the three campuses. 

Tuition generally is higher for the professional schools.  For example, the Rutgers Graduate Business School is $25,407 a year, the Newark School of Law is $23,665 and the New Jersey Medical School is $38,518 a year.

Tuition for general graduate degree programs is on average $717 per credit. 

"Unfortunately, for many graduate students, the primary source of financial aid is in the form of federal student loans," Rutgers Media Relations said in a statement.

"To help lessen the debt that graduate students may incur, Rutgers works with students to help find grants, and employment as research assistants, teaching assistants and other opportunities in their field of study," the statement continued.

Rutgers officials added that the University provides grants and scholarships in the form of the Eagleton Fellowships, the Presidential Fellowships, and the Ralph Bunche Fellowships. 

"In addition, Rutgers' GradFund program assists graduate students in applying for federal and privately-funded fellowships and grants to support graduate research and study," the official statement said. "Rutgers distributed more than $280 million in graduate student aid of various types during the 2013-2014 academic year."