What's going on? As Delisle explained, student borrowers have three options for managing their graduate-school loans to keep those loans from going in to default.
Income-Based Repay Plans. First, graduate-student borrowers can enter income-based repayment plans (IBRPs), which set monthly loan payments based on income, not the amount borrowed. IBRPs allow borrowers to lower their monthly loan payments, but often (perhaps almost always), the payments aren't large enough to cover accruing interest. When this happens, loan balances grow even when borrowers are making regularly monthly payments.
Forbearance. A student-loan debtor can ask for multiple types of forbearance on their loans. As Delisle explained, "the most common forbearance effectively has no eligibility criteria." Borrowers simply request a forbearance. Usually, interest continues to accrue during the forbearance period, which can last for no more than 36 consecutive months.
Deferment. Student borrowers can also apply for an economic hardship deferment that allows them to skip making loan payments due to economic hardship such as unemployment or severely reduced income. Borrowers automatically get a deferment while they continue to be enrolled in school. Again, interest accrues on their student loans while they are in deferment.
Graduate students typically accumulate the most student-loan debt because graduate education is expensive and there is no monetary cap on the amount of student loans that can be taken out to fund graduate education. Nevertheless, graduate students typical have low default rates. According to Delisle, only 4 percent of the 2009 cohort of graduate students were in default five years into repayment.
But a low default rate does not mean graduate-student borrowers are paying down their loans. In fact, a high percentage of graduate-student debtors are seeing their loans negatively amortize five years into repayment--meaning their loan balances are going up even though their loans are in good standing.
Why? Because thousands of graduate-student borrowers are not financially able to pay down their loans under a standard 10-year repayment plan. In order to avoid default, these borrowers select one of the three options listed above: IBRPs, loan forbearance, or deferment.
Here's where Delisle's report becomes especially interesting. Delisle lists the 20 graduate and professional schools with the highest share of graduate-student borrowers who had not reduced the principal on their loans five years into repayment.Twelve of these 20 schools are historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs); and their nonpayment rates ranged from 44 to 65 percent.
Here's the list of the 12 HBCUs with high nonpayment rates for their graduate students, along with the percentage of borrowers who had not reduced their loan principal. Of these 12 institutions, 11 are public universities.
- Mississippi Valley State University 65%
- Southern University New Orleans 62%
- Grambling State University 59%
- Virginia State University 53%
- Prairie View A & M University 51%
- Delaware State University 51%
- Alabama A & M University 50%
- Alabama State University 49%
- Southern University at Baton Rouge 48%
- Clark Atlanta University 47%
- Jackson State University 46%
- Lincoln University of Pennsylvania 44%
The AEI report is additional data showing that African Americans are particularly affected by the federal student loan program. At 12 HBCUs, from 44 to 65 percent of their graduate students entering repayment had not reduced the principal on their student loans by one dime five years later.
Perhaps the AEI report will prompt legislators to examine more closely whether HBCUs funded with public monies are providing their students with useful graduate education. Something is wrong when a high percentage of graduate students who attended a HBCU are not able to pay down their student-loan debt five years after ending their studies.
Jason Delisle. Graduate Schools with the Lowest Rates of Student Loan Repayment. American Enterprise Institute, June 2018.