Average CMU student debt is $24,236

The average student loan debt acquired by someone who graduated from Central Michigan University in 2008-09 is $24,236, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

Of the students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2007, 70 percent borrowed money.

The average student debt has continued to rise since 2005 with a difference of more than $7,000.

Diane Fleming, associate director of Scholarships and Financial Aid, said student debt is rising for a few reasons.

Average student debt at CMU:
• 2008-09: $24,236
• 2007-08: $22,128
• 2006-07: $17,365
• 2005-06: $16,537

“The amount of loans that we disperse steadily increases from year to year, and students are finding it a necessity to take out loans in order to pay for the cost of attendance,” she said.

For the 2007-08 school year, the average CMU student’s debt was $22,128. In the 2005-06 school year, the number was $16,537.

National concern

Nationwide, the number of students who default on their loans also is increasing.

The U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the 2007 fiscal year national student loan cohort default rate increased to 6.7 percent, up from the 2006 rate of 5.2 percent, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Education.

Fleming said rising costs of attendance are partially to blame for increasing debt, but also credited the problem to the lifestyle of American families.

“American families have gotten out of the habit of saving for college, so the only remaining aid available to them is loans,” Fleming said. “People are living off of credit cards — people are living beyond their means.”

Christopher Bailey, assistant professor of economics, said American families stopped saving in the 1990s because they saw their net wealth increasing and felt like they did not need to save.

Little support

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and, said he does not believe families have stopped saving for college and said the blame for rising debt lies elsewhere.

“The primary drivers of increases in debt are an increase in college costs and lackluster federal and state support of higher education,” he said.

According to data from the OIR, 7,228 of the 9,324 undergraduate students determined to need need-based aid during the 2008-2009 school year received need-based scholarships or grants.

From 2007 to 2009, the amount of money CMU gave out in need-based scholarships increased by $1,770,853 — to $9,224,227 from $7,453,374.

“Colleges are increasing their student aid budgets,” Kantrowitz said. “Half of all colleges this year increased their student aid.”

According to the Growth in Cumulative Education Debt, a national report by Kantrowitz, graduating without debt is impossible for students seeking degrees in the fields of medicine, business or law who apply for federal student aid.

Kantrowitz said students should use their careers’ starting salary to gauge how much money they borrow so they can quickly pay off their debts.

“The key rule of thumb is not to borrow more than your starting salary,” Kantrowitz said. “If you borrow more than your starting salary, you’re at high risk of defaulting.”


  1. The statement “American families have gotten out of the habit of saving for college” is a bit of a misnomer. Decades ago, college was affordable and didn’t require much prior saving.

    The few who have looked at university budgets with an objective eye have found them to be very bloated with unnecessary expenditures that only increase the cost of tuition.

    While increasing student aid is helpful, why aren’t colleges looking to trim costs? It’s about time families stood up to the careless spending on campus that’s causing their school debt to skyrocket.

  2. Brian McLean says:

    Working off Shawn’s comments: It’s perfectly possible that families saved adequate money, GIVEN their expected college expenditures. But tuition escalated at a rate few families saw coming, so college savings were insufficient to cover actual college expenditures. This doesn’t mean families switched over, somewhere down the line, to being generally irresponsible gluttons; it means that their prudential estimations failed to match actual expenses. (And through no fault of their own: tuition hikes have been absurd during the last few years, including and especially at CMU.) You can’t accuse a family of not saving for a rainy day when the rainy day happens to be a monsoon day.

    Another cause for recent student debt, including mine, has to do with stock performances. Much of my family’s savings were tied up in the stock market, and with the economic collapse last year, my savings took a substantial hit – at least a thousand dollars or so. This obviously contributed to my total debt.

    The moral of the story should be that tuition is unreasonably expensive. The average debt load is too large a financial burden on the average graduate. So universities should work on trimming their budgets, and states (and the federal government) should work on better funding fiscally responsible universities, where ‘better funding’ includes financial incentives for universities to lower tuition.

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