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College students who borrow too much: 13 facts

(MoneyWatch) I remember being startled earlier this year when I received an email from a mom who shared that she and her husband planned to borrow $200,000 for their son to attend Cornell University. Their son would also have to borrow the maximum in federal student loans to attend the Ivy League school.

What made this scenario even more preposterous was that the the bright child had also received a scholarship for an engineering honors program at Stony Brook University in New York and he could have graduated debt free.

The fifty-something mother rightfully expressed concern that she and her husband would keep their jobs long enough to repay this staggering college debt. I emailed the mom urging her to reconsider this college choice, but I never heard back.

Families that borrow six-figure amounts for college are the ones that you typically hear about in the media. But how common are they?

Students who borrow excessively for college
Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of and, released a white paper this week that concludes that extreme borrowing is far less common than you'd think. Here are Kantrowitz's key findings that are based on 2007-2008 figures:

1. Overall, 1.5 percent of all undergrads and grad students graduated with six-figure student loans.

2. Among students with six-figure debt, 10 percent were undergraduates and 90 percent were graduate and professional students.

3. Nearly 72 percent of undergrads with these huge debt loads graduated from non-profit colleges even though these institutions represent just 17 percent of total undergraduate enrollment.

4. Undergrads at expensive private schools are 12 times more likely to gradute with six-figure debt than undergrads at public institutions.

5. Twenty four percent of undergrads with staggering debt earned degrees at public universities.

6. Forty nine percent of medical students and 36 percent of law students graduated with six-figure debt.

7. Less than three percent of MBA students graduated with this high level of debt.

8. Students selecting more expensive colleges were more likely to graduate with six-figure student loan debt. In fact, more than three-fifths of bachelor-degree recipients with high loan amounts attended schools where the cost of attendance was $30,000 or more.

9. More than half of undergrads with six-figure debt attended the most selective schools.

10. Less than half of dependent undergrads who assume six-figure college loans do so because their parents are unable or unwilling to borrow from the federal Parent Plus Loan program.

12. Students who use private student loans are more likely to graduate with six-figure debt.

13. High-income students were more likely to graduate with onerous college loans than low-income students. 

In my next post, I'll share ways that Kantrowitz suggests can decrease excessive borrowing for college.

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