A majority of admissions directors at public and private colleges think it's fine if their students graduate with a student debt load in the five figures, according to a new survey by Inside Higher Ed.
Only two percent of all admissions directors think graduating with no student debt is a reasonable expectation.
The average student graduates from a four-year program with around $25,250 in debt, according to the Project on Student Debt. Some 42 percent of all admissions directors believe graduating with $20,000-$30,000 of student loans to repay is reasonable. Another 17 percent believe it's fine if students graduate with $30,000-$40,000 in debt.
Admissions directors at private non-profit schools tended to approve of higher debt levels than those at public and community colleges. Half of survey respondents at private colleges thought $20,000-$30,000 was appropriate, compared to 32 percent at public universities and community colleges.
No admission director at a community college believes students should leave their schools with more than $40,000 in debt.
The survey found many believe what students study at school has an impact on how much debt they'll graduate with. Of those surveyed, 47 percent said it mattered "some," and 31 percent said it mattered "a great deal."
Admission directors also reflected a concern the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Department of Education highlighted in a report over the summer that too many students are taking out private student loans. The survey results indicated 90 percent of directors at four-year publics and 71 percent at four-year privates held this belief, but they were split on whether students should avoid private loans altogether.
Private student loans have much higher interest rates and fewer options for graduates struggling to make their payments.
Student loan debt outpaces all other forms of consumer debt but is the only kind which is nearly impossible to have discharged in bankruptcy. Members of Congress have proposed bills to add more disclosure -- by financial aid and admissions counselors, among others -- to prevent students from accumulating heavy debt burdens by the time they graduate.
Inside Higher Ed said the survey was "conducted [for them] by Gallup" and "is based on responses from 576 college admissions directors or the person who is in charge of admissions operations."