THE BLOG
09/08/2014 10:34 am ET Updated Nov 08, 2014

Undergraduate Education and Student Debt

One of the most common discussions surrounding higher education today is student debt -- and rightfully so, as it's something almost every graduate faces in varying degrees and a constant concern of parents and students alike.

The total amount of debt incurred by students in our country is indeed staggering -- the often-cited estimation is $1 trillion. However that number needn't paint quite a dismal picture as we often see. In my opinion, one of the most harmful and perpetuated myths about the cost of college involves national numbers about student debt and how it relates to undergraduate, private education.

In fact, private nonprofit colleges like Endicott account for only about one-third of that total. The average debt level of bachelor's degree recipients at independent colleges and universities is $19,500, an arguably reasonable amount and well below what headline-hungry media would have us believe our graduates are all saddled with.

In a new study released by The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), we see an altered view of the student debt landscape from what the population at large is used to considering: up to 40 percent of total student debt in the US is for graduate education. In fact, although graduate students make up only 15 percent of students who borrow, they borrow two-and-a-half times as much money on average each year as undergraduates. Graduate students in medicine/health sciences and law borrowed the most; and while incurring six-figure debt is quite an endeavor to undertake, these graduates also carry the largest earning potential as doctors and lawyers, which significantly raises their ability to pay back proportionally-inflated loans. At what point do we allow the caveat that student debt is an investment in a lucrative future?

College is a commitment and goal worth planning and saving for, and ultimately, worth going into moderate debt for. Student debt is not inherently a bad thing, as long as it is reasonable, low-risk, calculated, and flexible to the needs of working young adults. It's imperative that we continue financial counseling services for students incurring loans to help them manage and understand their obligations. Tuition increases need to be kept in check. At Endicott, our percentage raises are kept at the bare minimum -- just 1.98 percent and 2.48 percent over the past two years.

And now, more than ever, higher education needs to provide value. We need to make sure our graduates are ready to successfully jump into an active workforce upon graduation. We need to arm them with top-quality internship experiences and networking connections, knowledge of professional environments, and the confidence in themselves needed to navigate these new waters. If we prepare them well, they will flourish -- debt and all.