The high cost of higher ed

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that student loan debt – particularly for graduate students – continues to rise at an astronomical pace.

Grad students’ debt grew 43 percent from 2004 to 2012 to a median of $57,600. Undergraduates’ debt rose 39 percent in the same period to a median of $27,000 in 2012.

The story cites a report from the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

As scary as those general numbers are, the debt for specific degrees is even more terrifying. The median debt for someone receiving a medical degree is $161,772 upon graduation. Remember, median means that half the people graduating owe more than that figure.

The median debt for someone receiving a medical degree in 2004 was $123,203.

Or take a look at someone who wants to practice law. In 2012, the average student receiving a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor graduated with a debt of $140,616, an increase of $52,000 from 2004.

The story cites the example of a 34-year-old father of three who obtained first a master’s and then a doctorate in psychology. He piled up student loans of over $150,000. He got a job at the Department of Veterans Affairs that pays $68,000 per year. Because he has to pay over $1,000 per month to service his educational loans, it will be years before he can buy a house.

While there is no question that higher degrees will eventually pay off, it seems strange when doctors and lawyers can’t begin to buy houses until they are nearly 40 years old. After all, those are professions that used to be referred to as the upper middle class.

It is hard to imagine starting a professional life with $150,000 in debts. Some important sectors of our community are stuck with what amounts to a very early luxury tax.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.