Physical Therapy Student Loan Debt and Methods of Repayment
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to investigate total student loan debt of physical therapy school students and graduates, as well as their planned methods of repayment. Career projection for physical therapists is predicted to grow by 34% from 2014 to 2024, which is must faster than the average rate for all occupations.1 The average total debt is approximately $96,000 for new physical therapy graduates.2 Physical therapists’ educational standard is now a doctoral degree, and there is a considerable difference in cost between a master’s program and a doctoral program.3 Students are now choosing careers based on their projected ability to pay off student loans instead of aspiring to have a fulfilling career.4 In one study, student loan debt affected the job choice of 63% of those surveyed.2 Financial experts recommend that student loan repayments do not exceed 8-10% of an individual's gross monthly income.5 American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) data indicated that in 2016, physical therapists' national median income was $85,000.6 To pay off the average loan debt of $96,000, it would take approximately 11 years to completely pay off loans if one chose to pay the higher rate of $708/month. If an individual were to pay the lower rate of $566/month, it would take approximately 14 years. Description: A convenience sample of Trine University Doctor of Physical Therapy students and graduates were contacted via email between February 1, 2018 and May 15, 2018. The survey design was both qualitative and quantitative in nature, involving a survey with multiple question styles including: nominal, ordinal, interval, Likert Scale-style questions, and open-ended questions that allow participants to expand upon responses provided. Demographic information gathered included: age, gender, status in school or years of experience, employed or unemployed as a physical therapist, reasons for working more than one job, type of undergraduate and graduate institution (public versus private), total student loan debt, and loan repayment timing planned. Summary of Use: 78 participants completed the survey. Of the 78 participants, 52 were female and 26 were male. Ages ranged from 20-40 years old. 24 participants were first-year students. 21 were second-year students. 9 were third-year students. 11 were new graduates with 0-1 years of experience and 13 were new graduates with 1-3 years of experience. Of the 24 new graduates, 20 responded to the question asking if they currently work more than one job as a physical therapist. 7 participants replied that they do work more than 1 job and 13 said that they do not. Of the 7 graduates that work multiple jobs, none of them responded that they work a second job for enjoyment, to keep their skills sharp in different areas, or for other reasons not given as an option. 5 have secondary employment to assist with loan repayment. 17 participants responded with their total amount of loans. The mean debt amount for these 17 participants was $149,198 with a standard deviation of $51,409. The range spanned from $54,000 to $220,000. 19 participants gave a time frame for how quickly they planned to pay off their student loans. The responses ranged from less than 3 years to 15-20 years. The final question was an open-ended question asking what strategies the graduates planned to utilize to manage their student loan debt. 18 participants chose to disclose their strategies. The categories include paying above the suggested payment each month, working multiple jobs, utilizing organization and budgeting strategies, utilizing loan forgiveness or refinancing, making investments, and not having a set plan. Importance to Members: Students are accumulating a substantial amount of debt to attend physical therapy school and then are unable to maintain financial stability. All but one of the students surveyed who worked more than one job did so for financial support purposes. Based on the average debt of Trine DPT students ($149,198) and the recommendation of paying 8-10% of salary towards loans, it would take roughly 17.5 years if they make the average salary of $85,000. 58% of students surveyed plan to pay off their loans between 6-15 years. In order to do so, they would have to pay a higher monthly rate which could cause financial strain if they do not work a secondary job. New graduates are accepting secondary PRN positions in order to offset the large debt-to-income ratio.