The median amount of debt owed by psychology doctoral graduates—who reported any debt at all—tripled from $20,000 in 1995 to $60,000 in 2007, finds data from the APA Center for Workforce Studies presented at APA's Annual Convention.

According to the results from APA's 2007 Doctorate Employment Survey:

  • Slightly more than 68 percent of recent doctorates have some debt, and more than one in three owes more than $80,000. Almost 23 percent owe more than $100,000. The data suggest that the increasing popularity of for-profit educational institutions appears to be contributing to the rise in median debt levels, said APA Center for Workforce Studies research officer Ariel Finno.

    The increase in debt is not limited to psychology, and the national trend toward higher debt load among graduates of for-profit educational programs across all fields is a cause for concern, said Finno, citing information from "The College of 2020: Students," a 2009 report from Chronicle Research Services.

  • The median amount of debt for students in the health-service subfields is $70,000, twice the amount for students who earned doctorates in research-related fields. In addition, almost 30 percent of recent doctorates in research have $20,000 to $40,000 of debt, while almost 20 percent of new doctorates in health service subfields owe more than $120,000.

In analyzing the data, it's clear that students who earn PsyDs have more debt than students who earn PhDs to pursue research careers, said Finno. That's in part due to the different ways that PhD and PsyD candidates get their financial support: While 60 percent of research-focused students said their primary funding came from university research and teaching assistantships, only 28 percent of students in the health-service subfields were funded that way.

Without such support, 37 percent of health-service students said their primary educational funds came from loans, compared with 13 percent for students in research fields.

The 2007 Early Career Psychologist Survey showed a similar pattern: 17 percent of early career psychologists with a PhD surveyed cited loans as their primary source of support, compared with 38 percent of PsyD graduates.

For more information and data, visit the Center for Workforce Studies' Web site.

—C. Munsey