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Prediction: graduate school student debt will start declining.

The inspiration for this prediction is a piece by Dean Dad on a Vox article in which the author, Dylan Matthews, discusses why he was wrong about inflation. (That article is fantastic.)

The post by Matt Reed (should we keep calling you Dean Dad?) is not really about inflation. Instead, it calls for more “epistemic humility” in expert forecasts.

Riffing on Matt, I want to make a prediction that can be unambiguously proved wrong.

Where does debt from graduate school stand today?

About six in 10 master’s students will take out student loans to pay for their degree. Graduate school student loans account for half of all student debt ($1.75 trillion), while only a quarter of those who owe money on student loans have gone to graduate school.

An April 12 article in nerdwallet gives the following averages.

  • Bachelor’s degree debt—$28,950
  • Graduate school loan debt—$71,000
  • Law school debt—$145,500
  • M.B.A. student debt—$66,300
  • Medical school debt—$201,490
  • Dental school debt - $292,169
  • Pharmacy school loan debt—$179,514
  • Master of science in nursing (M.S.N.) debt—$47,321
  • Veterinary school debt—$183,302

These figures represent (I think) the combined undergraduate and graduate school debt. If you know where to find graduate-only debt figures, please let us know.

Why predict that the average amount of graduate student debt will go down?

First, I’m really thinking of graduate school costs, not debt. According to, the average cost to get a master’s degree is $66,340 and can range between $30,000 and $120,000.

What I’m really predicting is that graduate school will get more affordable. Over time, less expensive graduate schools will lower student debt. But that process will take years to unfold.

Today, the largest student debt holders are in the 35 to 49 age group (14.4 million owe $622 billion). Graduate school getting cheaper in the future will not help these folks.

Still, less expensive graduate school is a good thing. Here are the two reasons why I think this will start to happen:

1. Online Learning

Six in 10 students in master’s programs are now enrolled in online or hybrid programs. While there will always be a place for full-time residential master’s degrees, increasingly, these will be limited to a handful of globally branded programs.

There are only a few master’s programs where it makes sense to quit your job and move to a campus for two years. It will make more sense for almost every other master’s degree student to keep working and earn the degree online.

This transition from residential to online/hybrid master’s programs will lower the overall cost of the degree—and eventually student debt. In some cases, employers will help defer the costs of a degree. It is easier to pay tuition with a salary coming in.

2. The Rise of Affordable Scaled Online Degrees

The most important higher education story unfolding right now is the rise of the affordable scaled online degree. How is it that we are not spending more time talking about the following degree programs?

These are just a handful of low-cost fully online degrees from top schools. That list is growing every month.

There is an entire community dedicated to creating low-cost/high-quality scaled degrees.

I’m highly interested in the organizational investments that Boston University is making to drive the conversation about online-at-scale graduate programs.

How much might graduate student debt come down by, say, 2030?

What will the growth of low-cost online scaled degrees mean for traditional (and expensive) residential, hybrid and fully online programs?

Where may I have blind spots in my projections that pricing (and eventually debt) around graduate degrees will start to trend downward?

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