James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

December 4, 2009

Quick Question On Student Debt

Filed under: Fun With Numbers — Tags: — James @ 12:49 pm

Numbers in this post come from from The Project on Student Debt. I can’t vouch for their accuracy myself, but assuming they are:

Which of these numbers do you think is more informative?

  1. Among college students in Iowa graduating with debt, the average amount owed was $28,174 (73% of students graduated with debt)
  2. Among all college students who graduated in Iowa last year, the average student owed $20,567?

Either way it’s a BAD number, and one of (if not THE) highest in the nation but it seems like the second way makes it easier to make comparisons between different states. For example, in California the average debt carried by students graduating with debt was $17,795, substantially lower to begin with, but apparently only 48% of students graduating in California had ANY debt, so the average California graduate had only $8,542 in debt.

The average Iowa graduates with 240% of the debt load of the average Californian, yet the first method shrinks that difference to 158% by not taking into account the higher number of Californians graduating with no debt at all.

The Project on Student Debt, reports their numbers using the first method, but I can’t figure out why.


  1. Huh. I was leaning towards the first one. And I say that because if you don’t have any debt then the subsequent issues of starting your life so much underwater, or with rich parents, means your life plays out rather differently.

    For me the main point is what these students face after graduation, and the debt-free ones are not the ones I’d worry about quite as much.

    I can’t believe how much money people owe after school now. And if you go to grad school you can’t even begin to climb out for many more years. Awful.

    Comment by Mary — December 4, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

  2. And it really is influencing who even considers going to grad school. Of course that was when I was still an undergrad. Now I’m guessing grad school is seen as a great way to wait out the complete lack of a job market for most new college grads.

    Comment by James — December 4, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

  3. Do you think the higher number in the first serves their purpose a little better, or at least draws more attention to their organization?

    Comment by Liza Wheeler — December 4, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

  4. Oh, absolutely. From looking around their webpage it’s clear what they’re trying to do is draw attention to the huge amounts of debt many (most) students go into to get a college degree. What got me thinking about how best to represent the number was looking at the animated map they have on their site and having trouble doing comparisons in my head between different states.

    I’m already convinced the cost of education is out of control in this country, so for me it was interesting to look at regional differences.

    Comment by James — December 4, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

  5. I’d say 30k is a pretty good deal for a 4 year education, though I can’t think of any school that actually costs that little. I’d be interested how much higher this number would be if it included what parents and kids kicked in as cash.

    Comment by Matt — December 4, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

  6. Yeah, the total cost of a four year degree is a whole different, and even more frightenly large number. There used to be some good state schools at were only 5-6,000 a year in tuition, but I don’t expect there are many left after this last set of state budget crunches.

    Comment by James — December 4, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

  7. Alternative to debt:

    It actually reminded me of the story of the Quonset hut my aunt and uncle lived in when he went to UMass after WWII on the GI bill, actually….They used to laugh about it, at least in later years.

    Comment by Mary — December 6, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  8. My parents once took me to see the place they’d lived in during grad school, which was actually surplus “temporary” housing left over from the GI Bill students after WWII.

    The duplex had been torn down, but the concrete slab it had been built on had been converted to four parking spaces. Two married couples had lived in that building, so it works out to something a little better than the one-parking-space sized van he’s living in.

    I must admit, I never understood how people majoring in subjects like English or Philosophy ever made it back out of debt… now I know what it takes.

    Comment by James — December 6, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

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