CIC Releases Updated Student Debt Data, Research

CIC provides research data and reports to its members to help them demonstrate the high quality and value of education provided by independent colleges and universities. Most recently, CIC released an annual update to the myth-busting fact sheet “Student Debt: Know the Facts”; updated a number of key charts on CIC’s easily accessible Charts and Data website; and published a new edition of the Digest of Recent Research. All of these resources are available on the CIC website under the “Resources + Research” tab.


The eighth annual edition of CIC’s “Student Debt: Know the Facts” was distributed widely to member institutions in February 2021. Because the public remains concerned about college affordability, student debt, and so-called “free college” initiatives, this fact sheet is intended to help campus leaders provide persuasive, data-informed explanations to their leadership team, trustees, prospective students and their families, alumni, and journalists. For example, a common misperception is that graduates of private colleges accumulate massive levels of debt, many owing more than $100,000 when they graduate. In fact, the average student loan debt for 2019 graduates of private nonprofit colleges and universities was $19,500, just $4,600 higher than for a graduate of a public four- year institution (see first figure below).

CIC has found that too few students and their families understand the great educational value that independent colleges and universities provide, especially for underrepresented students, at a lower cost than is often imagined. Properly understood and managed, student debt represents an investment with remarkable lifelong returns. Accurate information, such as is provided in “Student Debt: Know the Facts,” is needed to inform public understanding of the true value of investing in an independent college education.

Average Total Student Loan Debt Per Bachelor’s Degree Recipient

Bar graph depicting student loan debt per graduate at private four-year institutions and public four-year institutions  

Source: The College Board, Trends in Student Aid 2020, p. 42. All totals are expressed in 2019 dollars. Prepared by the Council of Independent Colleges.


Since 2005, CIC has provided a robust, searchable website with more than 100 charts, data, and other resources to “make the case” for the educational quality and effectiveness of independent colleges and universities. CIC periodically updates this site to equip CIC members and the public with timely and relevant information to combat misinformation and misperceptions.

For instance, the public generally does not understand that independent colleges and universities enroll comparable proportions of underrepresented students, including low-income, first-generation, and students of color, as public four-year institutions enroll. Moreover, students of diverse backgrounds are much more likely to graduate on time and at higher rates at independent institutions. For example, 50 percent of Hispanic students who graduate from four-year private colleges and universities do so in four years or less, compared with just 29 percent of Hispanic students who graduate from public four-year institutions (see figure below).

The Charts and Data website also includes reports that CIC has published, such as State “Free College” Programs: Implications for States and Independent Higher Education and Alternative Policy Approaches (2020). Charts, reports, and other resources are easily searchable by title, topic, or date. CIC’s charts and reports can be downloaded for inclusion in campus presentations and reports or easily shared via social media.

Percent of Bachelor’s Degree Recipients Who Graduate in Four Years

Bar graph depicting percent of bachelor's degree recipients who graduate in four eyars at private four-year institutions and public four-year institutions  

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 326.10. Note: Percentages are for entering cohort of 2012. Analysis by the Council of Independent Colleges.


In January 2021, CIC released the latest edition of the Digest of Recent Research to help presidents and other senior campus leaders strengthen campus “evidence-based” decision making. The Digest highlights timely research from scholarly journals and other publications that independent college and university campus leaders are likely to find particularly helpful. This most recent installment includes summaries of articles on the following topics:

  • Effects of early college on degree completion;
  • Increasing diversity in faculty hiring;
  • Microaggression experiences among Black undergraduates;
  • Helping students learn to be innovative;
  • Implications of different student approaches to college completion; and
  • The impact of adjunct faculty working conditions on instructional quality.

The Digest is edited by Matthew J. Mayhew, William Ray and Marie Adamson Flesher Professor of Educational Administration at Ohio State University. Each issue offers a brief summary of selected articles that includes a discussion of the findings and implications for action by campus leaders. CIC is grateful to the Spencer Foundation for its support of this series.

View additional information about CIC’s research resources.