How to Estimate How Many Employees Have Student Loans

Published
August 17, 2022

Here's how estimate the impact of a student loan repayment benefit on your employee population

How to Estimate How Many Employees Have Student Loans

“Should we offer this?” - Estimate the adoption rate of an employer student loan repayment benefit

As we’re sure any benefits expert knows, when you’re considering new benefits, one of the key planning questions is usually “what’s the adoption rate, or utilization, of the benefit going to be?” 

This is especially true for fringe benefits that don’t necessarily apply to the entire employee population like fertility benefits, pet care, child support, commuter benefits, etc. Of course, employer student loan repayments (SLR benefit) are no exception. 

One of the first things companies usually want to know is, “how many people in my company have student loans?” While it’s hard to find out the exact number without surveying 100% of the population, there are a few key data points you can use to estimate what percentage of your employee population has student loans and would benefit from an SLR benefit.  

(Side Note: reach out to our team at Highway Benefits to find out the exact number of employees in your company with student loans or use our adoption rate calculator to generate a simple estimate) 

How can I estimate how many people in my company have student loans? 

To start, since nearly ⅓ of the workforce holds some amount of student debt (45M out of 157M working Americans, according to recent data from the U.S Department of Education), a good starting estimate for how many people in your company have student loans is ~30%

A good starting estimate for how many people in your company have student loans is ~30%.

If you have nothing else to go off of, this data point is a solid number to start basing your estimations on. 

What other factors can I use to estimate how many employees have student loans?  

The average amount of student debt and the percentage of people who hold student debt in your organization will likely increase (or decrease) based on different demographic factors of your employee population, like:

Age 

Younger employee populations are likely to have a higher fraction of people with student debt than older populations.

This is true for a couple reasons: first, younger employees have graduated more recently and thus have had less time to pay off their debts; second, the average cost of education has gone up significantly in recent decades. Over the past 20 years, the average tuition and fees at national universities have grown 144% for private, 171% for out-of-state, and 211% for in-state institutions!

Tuition growth over past 20 years from US News
Image Source: US News & World Report

Companies with a majority of Millennials and/or Gen-Zers employees, may find that the true percentage of employees with student loans is actually higher than 30% since 67% of borrowers are under 40 and ~38% of Millennials are currently paying off student debt.  

Companies with a majority of older employees may find the opposite to be true–only 12% of adults ages 50-61 and 4% of adults over 62 hold student debt.  

Chart of student debt holders from the Washington Post
Image Source: The Washington Post

Education Level 

If your employee population is college-educated or higher, chances are a significant portion of them will have some amount of student debt. Of all the people who currently have outstanding student debt, 88% of them owe money for their undergraduate education

While the majority of borrowers hold debt from undergraduate education, the more educated your employee population, the more student debt they’re likely to hold. Borrowers with graduate degrees and graduate students currently hold 46.7% of federal student loan debt. On average, a borrower with a master’s degree owes nearly 2x as much as a borrower with only an undergraduate degree. Although only ~13.1% of US adults have graduate degrees (according to a 2019 estimate by the US Census Bureau), ~60.5% of people who have completed graduate school have student loan debt.

Companies that employ a large number of people with advanced degrees may see a higher adoption rate of their SLR benefit. 

Degree Type 

Specialization matters too. Companies and organizations that employ a large number of people with professional degrees are also likely to see high fractions of people with student debt (e.g. law firms, consulting firms, healthcare and hospital systems, nursing agencies, etc). 

On average, 51% of MBAs, 74.1% of law school students, 76-89% of medical school students, and 70% of nursing students graduate in debt. 

Gender

And did you know that student loans statistically impact women more than men? 58% of all student loan debt is held by women and, when it comes to both federal and private student loans, more women have student debt than men; 67.2% of women hold federal student loans and 24.2% hold private loans, compared to 55.9% and 21.5% for men. 

If your employee population skews more female, you may see a corresponding increase in the fraction of people with student debt. 

What if I want to find out the exact number of employees with student loans? 

If all you need is a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation for budgeting purposes, 30% is a safe starting assumption to operate off of. Keep these factors in mind, if you want a more personalized estimate. 

Need a more precise answer to how many people in your company have student loans? Our team at Highway Benefits can help you find out the exact percentage of people in your company with student loans. Schedule a call with our team today to learn more!  

About the Author
The author of the blog post
The Highway Team
Highway Benefits is an employee benefits platform that increases retention and attraction of top talent through modernized benefits. Highway's first product, a student loan matching platform, allows employers to design a custom plan which gives them the ability to contribute directly to their employees' student loans.
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