Graduate & Undergraduate Student Debt Relationship

Pyne, James, & Grodsky, Eric. (2020). Inequality and Opportunity in a Perfect Storm of Graduate Student Debt. Sociology of Education, vol. 93, no. 1, pp. 20-39. 

The authors centered their study on the connection of graduate and under-graduate student debt with social stratification. The notion of allowing more privileged students to either have less amount of debt, while the institutions put pressure on less privileged socioeconomic groups to pursue advanced degrees. The researchers explore the history of the increase in graduate debt, the social portraits of students in debt, as well as the prestige of an advanced degree for them. They ask the question of race and ethnicity affecting the amount, finding that underprivileged racial minorities tend to borrow more than their white counterparts. This phenomenon can have two reasons: institutional explanation – with universities aiming to maximize their revenue, and as well as the effect of access to credit resulting in improvement of social mobility, or hindrance of it – depending on whether the conditions are favourable or not. To test their ideas, authors analysed SCF from 1992 to 2016 first, then “examine the 1996, 2004, and 2016 cohorts of the NPSAS to look at borrowing patterns”, and use the data from NSCG to calculate the borrowings and earnings of the students in graduate debt.

The ideas that the authors present appear credible, without their assumptions being counter-intuitive. In the process of research, they employ the analytical method, which is best suitable for this kind of study – as the particular subject of the research lacks coverage. In spite of their scientific approach, the datasets they use may have not been entirely accurate, as most of the survey information is self-reported. This problem in particular could have led to the findings conflicting with reality – however, the authors assure that they are not after accuracy, but trends. The researchers express this concern about the accuracy of data on which they base their findings and calculations throughout the paper, however, fail to find any better alternatives. Another thing the researchers omitted from the study is calculating the rate at which different social groups are able to pay back their graduate debt – which would show a complete picture, whether the comparison of wages does not. The connection between the amount of loan and parental level of education is not evident, as they say that the rising prestige of advanced education is the prime factor.

While the results of the current research certainly are valuable, the practical implication of the data found remains unclear. Authors themselves encourage future researchers to use their findings to increase the accuracy of the data collected. The results certainly would prove to be beneficial for upcoming research, as overall, they are covering they are covering the problem from several points of view and present a variety of potential causes. The data collected could be used in state and educational institution for evaluation in order to aid in alleviation of the problem of increasing rates of graduate debt. State officials and university representatives could analyze the data to design a new educational policy, one that is able to potentially lead to a decrease in the debt gap between the underprivileged and higher-class students. As for the significance for personal research, this study proves to be valuable due to its focus on examining the ways educational debt affects social stratification as well as exploring its mechanisms and causality. Explaining the wide array of reasons and consequences of the growing trend of student debt, it gives an extensive overview of the problem.


Pyne, James, & Grodsky, Eric. (2020). Inequality and Opportunity in a Perfect Storm of Graduate Student Debt. Sociology of Education, vol. 93, no. 1, pp. 20-39.