A recent article in the Journal of Career Development, authored by Katie N. Smith and Hind F. Albana, explores some important impacts of student loan debt on careers for arts alumni. Smith, an Associate Professor of Higher Education at Temple University, and Albana, a Senior Research Associate at Kantar, were 2020 SNAAP Research Fellows.

In recent decades, U.S. bachelor’s students have increasingly taken out student loans — and greater loan amounts — to finance college (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). Arts students are no different, as SNAAP data from 2015 – 2017 also show that arts bachelor’s graduates are increasingly taking out student loans — and higher loan amounts — to pay for college (Figure 1).

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Unfortunately, prior research suggests that student loan debt may deter graduates from choosing careers in lower-paying industries and fields (Minicozzi, 2005; Rothstein & Rouse, 2011), including arts careers (Lena et al., 2014; Lindemann & Tepper, 2012). Thus, we set out to explore how varying levels of student loan debt predict arts bachelor’s graduates’ likelihood of working as an artist.

Employing 2015 – 2017 SNAAP survey data and data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Data System, we used logistic regression to understand the relationship between student loan levels and arts bachelor’s graduates’ likelihood of ever working as an artist. Specifically, arts bachelor’s graduates with varying levels of student loans were compared to graduates with no student loans. Our analysis controlled for demographic, educational, and institutional characteristics.

Figure 2 displays logistic regression results. As illustrated, arts bachelor’s graduates who took out student loans were less likely than arts bachelor’s graduates with no loans to report ever working as an artist. This relationship was statistically significant (p<.05) for graduates with over $10,000 in student loans, with the strongest relationship observed at the highest loan level.

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Specifically, arts bachelor’s graduates with $10,001-$30,000 in student loans were 9% less likely than those with no loans to work as artists. Further, graduates with $30,001-$50,000 in student loans were 19% less likely than graduates with no loans to work as artists, and graduates with more than $50,000 in student loans were 20% less likely than graduates with no loans to ever work as artists.

As undergraduates continue to borrow to meet college costs, arts careers are becoming less accessible, especially for students who rely on loans, a group that is disproportionately comprised of low-income, racially minoritized, and first-generation college students (Chan, 2019, 2020). As such, high college costs have important and adverse implications for the diversity of aspiring artists trained in colleges and universities. As results suggest, the more college students depend on student loans, the less accessible arts careers may be. Policies that reduce college costs and student loan debt can help to make arts bachelor’s programs — and arts careers — more accessible to more students.

In the coming year, SNAAP is committed to continue exploring the impact of student loan debt with the recently collected 2022 arts alumni survey data. Stay tuned for more important findings on this topic and many others.

This DataBrief was prepared by Katie N. Smith and Hind F. Albana.

Full article citation: Smith, K. N., & Albana, H. F. (2023). When Debt Deters: Student Loans as a Predictor of Education-Job Match Among Arts Bachelor’s Graduates. Journal of Career Development, 50(3), 563 – 579. https://doi.org/10.1177/08948453221118030