Increasing levels of student loan debt are a concern within many health professions, including physical therapy. This purpose of this study was to determine the levels and potential repayment of student loan debt for graduates of public and private physical therapist educational programs and to determine the relationship between debt management education, student loan debt, and credit card debt in Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students just prior to graduation.
Seven hundred thirty-three final year DPT students scheduled to graduate in spring or summer of 2019 completed a survey asking participants their level of student loan and credit card debt; their concerns regarding student loan debt; and if their educational program included curricular information on debt management.
Ninety-one percent of participants had some level of student loan debt. For participants with student loan debt, the average total student debt balance at the time of graduation was $103,482 for those attending a public institution and $138,361 for those attending a private institution; with the average amount of student loans taken out just for attending a DPT program being $83,087 for those attending a public institution and $112,207 for those attending a private institution. Participants who received debt management education within their DPT program had, on average, $3,520 less student loan debt for attending their DPT program and $570 less credit card debt than those who did not receive this education. For participants with student loans, 81% were concerned about loan repayment and 90.3% were concerned about the ability to make future major purchases, such as a house or car.
Discussion and Conclusion.
Utilizing participants' average estimated starting salary and a 15% debt to income guideline, 75.1% of participants with student loan debt would not meet 10-year loan repayment guidelines, 38.7% would not meet fixed 25-year loan repayment plan guidelines, and 21.4% would not meet 25-year graduated loan repayment plan guidelines. There was no significant difference in debt levels between students who did and did not receive debt management education within their DPT educational programs.