Students from affluent families are taking out loans for college at twice the rate of two decades ago, making them the fasting-growing borrower group.
Fifty percent of graduates in the class of 2012 whose parents had incomes of more than $125,700 left college with loans, up from 24% about 20 years earlier, according to a study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. For graduates whose parental income was below $44,000, the rate rose to 77% from 67%.
"Across the spectrum, student debt has become an important way to pay for college, and even graduates from well-off families rely on debt," said Richard Fry, an economist and primary author of the study.
The $1.2 trillion in outstanding education loans, which topped U.S. credit-card debt in 2010, continues to rise. So does the amount that students carry when leaving school. Graduates of the class of 2012 who took loans for a bachelor's degree owed $29,400 on average, up from $23,450 in 2008, according to the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success in Oakland.
In the early 1990s, only among graduates from low-income families did a majority finish college with student debt, said Fry, who analyzed data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. "Now, solid majorities of graduates from middle-income families (both lower-middle and upper-middle) finish with debt, and half of students from the most affluent quartile of families do the same."
Sixty-two percent of 2012 graduates from upper-middle-income households left college with loans, compared with 34% about 20 years ago, according to the study. Among lower-middle-income graduates, the rate climbed to 70% from 45%.