More MBA Grads Are Piling On Embarrassingly High Student Debt

July 12, 2016, 2:08 PM UTC
Courtesy: The Wharton School/Flickr

Graduating MBAs are shouldering more debt than ever, so much so that a record number of the leading business schools now decline to even share the embarrassing burdens they have put on their students.

Ask the admissions director at MIT’s Sloan School of Management what she thinks of the debt graduates are taking on and you get a non-answer—then an awkward silence. “Students get a life-changing experience here,” insists Dawna Levenson, without volunteering any more information. The average MBA debt last year hit a record $107,172 at Sloan, up 25% in four years from $86,688.

More from Poets&Quants: MBA Student Debt Burdens At 50 Top U.S. Business Schools

MBAs from the top 10 U.S. business schools alone left campus last year with a mind-boggling $317.4 million in graduate loans. And that sum is on top of whatever undergraduate debt students brought to business school.

Despite ever-increasing amounts of scholarship aid, MBA grads are pouring on student debt at levels never seen before. A new Poets&Quants study shows that MBAs are leaving campus with six-figure debt loads from at least 13 prominent business schools, up from only two schools in 2011. The six-figure burden ranges from a high of $122,370 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to $100,083 at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. For a Wharton MBA borrowing the money on a standard 10-year repayment plan, the debt amounts to about $1,408 in monthly payments, assuming a 6.8% interest rate and a total of $46,618 in interest charges.

MBA programs that will no longer disclose student debt data include USC’s Marshall School of Business, Columbia Business School, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Yale School of Management, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Estimates of the average debt burdens range from $118,088 at USC Marshall to $104,424 at Georgetown.

Even public university business schools aren’t much of a refuge from student debt. Six of the 25 schools whose MBAs graduate with the highest average loans are public, including Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, where the average debt burden is $93,898 and 61% of all graduates are in hock. MBAs out of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, with an average burden of $88,654, now owe roughly $5,000 more than the grads of private Stanford Graduate School of Business.

More from Poets&Quants: Ranking The Top 100 U.S. MBA Programs

Though the payback on an MBA degree is typically three to four years, it’s unclear how long it will take graduates to work off their interest-bearing graduate debt. “Lately there has been a robust refinancing market where many top MBA graduates have found that they can refinance a student loan with a new loan with more favorable terms,” explains Cory Pollock, co-founder of M7 Financial, a firm focused on the loan requirements of students and alumni. “So, technically, the original student loan is being paid back early but it is also being replaced with new a loan.”

Still, debt is having profound implications on many graduates’ lives. Among other things, students who hold debt are more likely to postpone getting married. Dora Gicheva, an economist at the University of North Carolina, has found that for every $10,000 young people carried in student debt, the likelihood of getting married in the seven years following graduation dropped by some three or four percentage points.

“Students are often surprised at how fast their money gets spent and how it will affect their job and life choices over the next 10 years,” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions, an MBA admissions consulting firm and a Harvard MBA graduate. “What people forget is how expensive the whole proposition is, not just tuition, room, and board. There are a lot of great international experiences and they are expensive. People tend to say, ‘I’m already in heavy debt, why not go to Germany for Octoberfest?’ It all adds up. There is a danger of forgetting that your student debt is going to have to be repaid.

More from Poets&Quants: Consulting: Why So Many MBAs Do It

Of course, not all graduates are leaving business school with debt. Hefty increases in scholarship aid have helped reduce some of the pressure on students to take out loans, and a good portion of graduates return to their pre-MBA employers who are willing to foot the tuition bills. Company sponsorship of students ranges from one in five at INSEAD in France and Singapore to one in 10 at Stanford. As a result, the percentage of MBAs who graduate with debt varies widely across the schools, from an estimated high of 70% at Yale to a low of 41% at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

B-schools with deeper pockets, such as Harvard and Stanford, have managed to keep both their student debt loads and the percentage of the class having to borrow relatively low. At Harvard, which now pays out $36 million in scholarship money annually, the average MBA debt was $79,667 for the Class of 2015, with 55% of the graduates shouldering debt. At Stanford, average debt for graduating MBAs totals $83,762, but more than half the graduates finish with no debt at all. Only 47% of Stanford’s grads borrowed money to fund their MBA education in 2015.

For graduates of these leading schools, of course, debt is relative. At Wharton, the first-year median compensation package for a graduating MBA was $146,303—a pre-tax sum that exceeds the average $122,370 in debt borrowed by those who financed their education with loans.

And there are plenty of schools where MBA debt is a mere fraction of the total load taken on by grads of elite business schools. At the University of Wisconsin’s Business School in Madison, the average debt burden for graduating MBAs was $15,481, $106,889 less than Wharton’s average, while the first-year median comp package was $114,694, just $31,609 below the median pay for a Wharton grad.

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Note: An asterisk indicates an estimate based on previous disclosure and trends

This article originally appeared on Poets&Quants.

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