According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), the average educational debt per graduating dental school senior in 2016 was roughly $219,000. Factoring out the 16 percent of dental school seniors who graduate with no debt, the average student debt rises to $262,000.
With dental school tuition nearly doubling since 2000, new dentists are faced with staggering amounts of debt after graduation, which can limit their ability to choose a preferred career path.
In addition, with the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011, graduate students lost access to federally subsidized loans. Under this program, the federal government pays the interest while students are in school, during a grace period and during periods of deferment. The loss of this benefit has increased the debt burden on graduate and professional students, including dental students.
Most dental students rely on federal student loans to finance their dental education. ADEA reports that in 2016, nearly 70 percent of graduating dental students reported using Federal Direct Loans to pay for dental school. Yet, while the interest rates and repayment terms for federal student loans are generally more favorable than private-sector loans, the borrowing terms are still daunting. For example, the interest rate on Direct Loans taken out on or after July 1, 2013, could reach as high as 9.5 percent annually, depending on the prevailing interest on 10-year Treasury notes plus 3.6 percent.
According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, there are more than 45 million people currently living in a dental health professional shortage area. In light of this, AGD urges Congress to ensure education costs aren’t hindering diversity, restricting service in underserved areas and/or serving as an outright deterrent for those wanting to enter the profession.
More specifically, AGD urges Congress to:
- Support legislative proposals such as H.R. 1614, the Student Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow borrowers to refinance their student loans whenever a lower interest rate is available. Sponsored by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), H.R. 1614 would specifically allow new dentists to refinance their federal Direct Loans, Direct Plus Loans and Direct Consolidation Loans at any time during the life of the loans, enabling them to take advantage of lower interest rates during more favorable economic conditions. Refinanced rates would be fixed, which protects borrowers from interest rate hikes.
- Increase funding for the National Health Service Corps to allow more dental graduates to participate in and take advantage of loan forgiveness opportunities in exchange for service.
- Reinstate subsidized Stafford loans for graduate students to prevent interest on qualifying loans from accruing while the student is still in school.