ECU researcher finds heavy debt burdens among college graduates

East Carolina University social work professor Dr. Intae Yoon found high levels of debt among college graduates in research published in the Journal of Social Work Education.

Dr. Intae Yoon

In a study titled “Debt Burdens among MSW Graduates: A National Cross-Sectional Study,” Yoon examined the debt load of master of social work graduate students. One quarter of respondents said they owe at least $40,000 in educational loans, he said, and 30 percent had borrowed at least $30,000 of their total college expenses.

One quarter of respondents also reporting at least a $500 monthly payment obligation to credit card companies at the time of graduation.

Yoon surveyed 260 MSW graduates from 25 states who graduated in 2009. He found that 31 percent of respondents said they were very or extremely burdened by loans from non-educational funding sources, without considering educational loan repayment obligations.

The study also examined the relationship between how students acquired credit cards and the extent of their debt. Those who received their plastic money from family members had about $2,500 less in debt than those who opened credit card accounts from on-campus vendors. Those who opened the accounts from on-campus vendors had about $2,000 less debt than those who received the cards through off-campus mailings.

Yoon said, “Since this study is based on a relatively small sample among social work graduates, it is problematic to generalize findings for all students. Yet, as these finding reflect national trends, I see danger in the current borrowing habits of many students.”

Unlike federal educational loans that can be readjusted based on the income level of the borrower, consumer debt will not be forgiven even if it is used to fund education. “The borrowing habits revealed in the study present a potential risk to our future workforce,” said Yoon.

“This exorbitant non-educational debt will siphon off a substantial portion of social workers’ discretionary income and threaten their quality of life.”

The full text of “Debt Burdens Among MSW Graduates: A National Cross-Sectional Study” may be obtained at



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