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According to the Congressional Budget Office, about 40% of the outstanding student loan debt was spent during graduate school.
An undergraduate student, on average, borrows less money than their graduate school counterparts — but the pool of people seeking a graduate education is far smaller.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis opposes President Joe Biden's willingness to explore additional student debt forgiveness, saying that it would primarily benefit people who earned advanced degrees.
"The student debt that is out there, almost 60% of it is graduate school debt," DeSantis said at a press conference on April 29. "Why would you make a truck driver, or a waitress, or a construction worker pay off the debt for somebody that did a Ph.D. program in gender studies?"
As a presidential candidate, Biden promised to forgive all undergraduate student debt for people earning up to $125,000. More recent discussions have involved providing up to $10,000 in student debt relief for people earning up to $125,000. Because the proposal is still very much up for debate, it’s unclear whether the debt relief would be tied to income.
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Still, DeSantis’ claim that "almost 60%" of outstanding student debt comes from graduate school is overstated.
DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw referenced an article from the Poynter Institute for Media Studies (which owns PolitiFact).
The article centered on how Biden could move to relieve student loan debt and cited the Brookings Institution, which said, "56% of the outstanding student debt is owed by households that hold graduate degrees."
The key distinction is that the Brookings data focused on households with debt.
Many households have undergraduate debt even though someone in the household also has a graduate degree. It doesn’t mean that all the debt held was spent on graduate school.
"Assuming that all student loans in a household are graduate school debt if anybody in the household has a graduate degree significantly overstates the amount of graduate school debt," Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert, told PolitiFact.
The Congressional Budget Office looked at the student debt picture in 2017. Of $1.4 trillion in total debt, CBO said, about 60% was spent during undergraduate school. The remaining 40% of outstanding student loan debt was spent during graduate school.
So, DeSantis has it almost exactly backward.
A majority of the federal student loan dollars disbursed during the 2020-21 school year were borrowed by undergraduate students, per a report from College Board, a nonprofit education group.
According to the College Board, 55% of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with debt, holding an average debt level of more than $25,000. Though an undergraduate student, on average, borrows less money than their graduate school counterparts, the pool of people seeking a graduate education is far smaller.
DeSantis said "almost 60%" of student loan debt "is graduate school debt."
He’s got it backward. About 60% of the outstanding student loan debt came from undergraduate school, according to a 2017 analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. On average, graduate students borrow more money than their undergraduate counterparts, but more people pursue undergraduate degrees.
DeSantis’ statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Florida Channel, Governor’s Press Conference on Infrastructure Improvements, April 29, 2022
Florida Governor’s Office, Governor Ron DeSantis Awards More Than $22 Million for Broadband, Infrastructure, April 29, 2022
Congressional Research Service, A Snapshot of Federal Student Loan Debt, assessed May 4, 2022
Congressional Budget Office, The Volume and Repayment of Federal Student Loans: 1995 to 2017, assessed May 4, 2022
The Federal Reserve System, Survey of Consumer Finances, assessed May 4, 2022
Poynter Institute, Can and will Biden cancel student debt for 43 million Americans, May 2, 2022
Education Data Initiative, Student Loan Debt Statistics, assessed May 4, 2022
Education Data Initiative, Student Loan Debt by State, assessed May 4, 2022
College Board, Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021, assessed May 4, 2022
Brookings Institute, Who owes the most in student loans: New data from the Fed, Oct. 9, 2020
NBC News, Biden considers forgiving some student debt as GOP pushes new bill to stop him, April 27, 2022
Email interview with Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, May 3, 2022
Phone interview with Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert, May 3, 2022
Email interview with Adam Looney, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute
PolitiFact, Biden was gesturing towards his audience, not shaking hands with "thin air," April 19, 2022
Florida Commission of Ethics, DeSantis’ full and public disclosure of financial interests, assessed May 4, 2022.
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