New Report Reveals Prevalence of Debt Among Higher Education Workforce

Debt is rampant among college workers, according to a new report from the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) Institute.

The Institute surveyed a sample of 1,327 full-time faculty, staff, and administrators at public and private nonprofit colleges for its October TIAA report, “Financial Literacy and Financial Well-being among the Higher Education Workforce.” The online survey was conducted online between March 1st and April 11th, 2022.

A key finding of the report shows that debt is ubiquitous among college and university employees — 82 percent of respondents said they had some form of debt, and 51 percent said they had some degree of debt limitation.

Additionally, debt is most common among younger people, with just 12 percent of those under 40 having no debt, compared to 36 percent of those over 60. Debt, which can lead to financial problems, is more common among the under-40s. 42 percent report having unpaid credit card balances, 30 percent have unpaid medical bills, 31 percent have a personal loan from a family or friend, and 26 percent have an alternative financial services debt loan.

According to the report, about 90 percent of full-time higher education workers save for purposes other than retirement, with 65 percent of respondents saying they are building an emergency fund.

The financial literacy of full-time tertiary professionals is higher than that of general US adults, but still low overall. For a series of five questions about basic economic concepts included in the survey, 41 percent of college staff answered correctly, compared with 32 percent of US adults.

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College and university staff with lower levels of financial literacy tend to have lower levels of financial well-being, the report said. Compared to their peers with high levels of financial literacy, college professionals with very low levels of financial literacy are:

  • They are more than twice as likely to struggle to make ends meet
  • You’re more than twice as likely to carry alternative financial services debt
  • You’re twice as likely to have unpaid credit card debt from previous bills
  • They are over three times more likely to be significantly debt constrained
  • Three times more likely to lack emergency savings sufficient to cover a month’s living expenses
  • They are nearly three times more likely to spend at least 10 hours a week thinking and dealing with personal finance issues and problems.