More Young Adults Attending College, Accumulating Debt

Aimee Simone, Associate Editor
Published Online: Monday, July 14, 2014
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A recent report finds that while more young adults are finishing high school and attending college, they are also burdened with more debt.
Although American young adults are more likely to complete high school and attend college than in previous years, they also have more student debt and make less money, according to the findings of a recent report.

The report, conducted by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics and published in July 2014, collected data from nationally representative, federally sponsored surveys for young adults aged 18 to 24 years, and looked at trends in education, economic circumstances, family formation, civic, social, and personal behavior, and health and safety.

The results of the report indicated that a greater percentage of youth are graduating from high school and attending college. In 2013, 83% of young adults had at least received a high school diploma or equivalent certification, 39% had attended some college, 6% had an associate’s degree, and 10% had a bachelor’s degree or higher. In addition, the overall college enrollment rate increased from 26% in 1980 to 41% in 2012.

As college enrollment increased, the price of an education rose as well. The average net price of attending college for a full-time undergraduate student increased 24% from $15,900 during the 1999-2000 school year to $19,700 in the 2011-2012 school year. After adjusting for inflation, the average cumulative debt for students in their fourth year during the 2011 to 2012 school year was $25,400, up from $14,700 for the 1989 to 1990 school year. In 2011-2012, approximately 68% of undergraduates in their fourth year of college had received federal loans, non-federal loans, or Parent Loans for Undergraduates, compared with 50% of students in 1989-1990. Although the cost of college and the amount of student debt has substantially increased, the amount of grant aid, which does not have to be repaid, also increased. The average amount of grant aid increased by 43% from the 1999-2000 school year to the 2011-2012 year.

The report also found that a smaller percentage of young adults are working, and those who do have jobs are making less money. In 2013, the labor force participation rate for young adults was 64.7%, compared with peak rates of 75.3% in 1986 and 74% in 2000. Median annual earnings have decreased since 2000 for young adults at all education levels. In 2012, the median annual salary for young adults was $17,460 overall, and ranged from $13,910 for those without a high school diploma to $24,990 for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree.
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