Graduate Debt in Psychology: A Quantitative Analysis

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Abstract

Student loan debt has become an issue of national concern in the context of rapidly increasing higher education costs. Graduate education can be prohibitively expensive, particularly at the doctoral level. The present study provides an updated and comprehensive analysis of the financial circumstances and debt loads related to pursuing a graduate degree in psychology. The study surveyed a random sample of graduate students and early career psychologists (ECPs) listed in the American Psychological Association membership database. Participants were asked about their debt loads for educational costs, sources of financial support, living circumstances, financial stress, and the impact of student loan debt on their personal and professional lives. The results indicate that current debt loads are substantially higher than what has been previously reported (Michalski, Kohout, Wicherski, & Hart, 2011), with some variation by subfield and type of degree. A number of participants endorsed significant financial stress, as well as having to delay major life milestones because of their debt. While education costs and loan debt have continued to increase, starting salaries appear relatively stagnant, suggesting the need for a thoughtful cost/benefit analysis of graduate education in psychology. The psychology community is urged to increase awareness of and advocate for these issues, with several specific advocacy steps recommended.

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