Cost of College: It’s a Different World for Graduate Students

When we talk about the cost of college, we often think of the four-year undergraduate student. But students seeking advanced degrees like master’s and doctorate degrees — like about half of all Pacific students — also are a huge part of the student debt conversation.

drawing of tipped scales

About 40 percent of all student loan debt is for graduate programs, which are typically more expensive than undergraduate programs and offer considerably less financial aid (and almost no tuition discounting).

Students who complete a graduate degree typically have a significantly higher earning potential than those with a bachelor’s alone, particularly in many of Pacific’s allied health professions, like pharmacy. But they also enter those careers carrying far greater debt levels, typically more than $100,000.

Dr. Lorena Hawkins, who graduated with a doctorate in occupational therapy from Pacific in 2015, had to take out loans to do it. Now she is director of rehabilitation at Pacific Care and Rehabilitation Center in Hoquiam, Wash. She is repaying her loans for three years of graduate school at the rate of $750 a month — a house payment, in a town like Hoquiam.

In 2015, she wrote to Oregon Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, about a proposal that would extend a loan forgiveness program to cover occupational therapists. “As a student of Pacific University, I will graduate this year with a student debt a bit over $179,000,” she wrote.

“I will have to repay this into retirement, based on my income,” she said this winter.

About 40% of all student loan debt is for graduate programs.

To be sure, Hawkins is older than most recent graduates. She entered graduate school 24 years after earning her undergraduate degree from Eastern Oregon University. She notes that her situation is very different from most college students. With her opportunity to earn a living as a doctor of occupational therapy, she said, “I have more opportunity to pay it back.”

For Hawkins, the cost of a degree from Pacific was worth it. “I wish I didn’t have to pay so much money every month,” she acknowledged, but added, “I’m very pleased with the education I got from occupational therapy school.” She said her Pacific education helped equip her to think critically, an essential skill for a rehabilitation director.

This story was part of a feature on The Cost and Value of College that first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Pacific magazine. For more stories, visit

Tuesday, May 21, 2019