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New MissionSquare Research Institute Report Details Student Loan Debt Load for State and Local Government Employees

February 22, 2024

A new report from MissionSquare Research Institute provides an in-depth analysis of student loan debt levels among state and local government public service positions. The research identifies varied levels of student loan debt associated with specific state and local government jobs that deliver essential public services in communities across the nation.

Across the public service careers and programs studied, the average student loan debt is estimated to be $12,785 for associate degree holders, $23,052 for those with a bachelor’s degree, $37,598 for workers with a master’s degree, and $70,404 for those holding a doctoral degree.

The detailed insights are presented in the research brief, "Student Debt in State and Local Government: Impacts on Select Occupations." Read the brief.  

This new research comes as the federal government is taking steps to extend student debt relief and as state and local government continue to face problems attracting and keeping workers. At the same time, state and local employees are feeling the stress of student loan debt. Recent MissionSquare Research Institute research found 46% of state and local government employees were extremely or very worried about paying back their student loans. 

Dr. Zhikun Liu, Vice President and Head of Retirement Research at MissionSquare Research Institute, explained, "We embarked on this research to gain a deeper understanding of the student debt challenges confronting the state and local government workforce, particularly for positions that are hard to fill. Now, policymakers and employers have crucial data about the extent of the issue, enabling them to make informed decisions regarding potential solutions such as student loan forgiveness, tuition assistance, degree requirements, or recruitment strategies. Ultimately, implementing student loan programs for the public workforce could effectively address persistent challenges in worker recruitment and retention, which are placing a burden on many jurisdictions, while simultaneously easing employee stress and financial burdens."

Debt associated with higher education presents a financial hurdle for individuals entering the workforce. In 2022, student loan debt in the United States amounted to $1.8 trillion. Individuals may take out loans from the federal government or private lenders, but federal student loans are most common, representing more than 92% of total student loan debt.

The analysis uses publicly available data from the National Center for Education Statistics College Scorecard and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System to estimate the median level of student debt for federal student loans across different degree levels. This report was prepared by Margaret Tait, PhD, MPH; Amanda Tran, MPH; and Jonathon P. Leider, PhD, with the Center for Public Health Systems, Division of Health Policy and Management, University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

About MissionSquare Research Institute

MissionSquare Research Institute promotes excellence in state and local government and other public service organizations to attract and retain talented employees. The organization identifies leading practices and conducts research on retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development, and topics facing the nonprofit industry and education sector. MissionSquare Research Institute brings together leaders and respected researchers. More information and access to research and publications are available here.

About MissionSquare Retirement

Since our founding in 1972, MissionSquare Retirement has been dedicated to simplifying the path to retirement security for public service employees. As a mission-based, nonstock, nonprofit financial services company, we manage and administer over $74 billion in assets.* Our commitment to delivering results-oriented retirement plans, education, investments, and personalized advice sets us apart. Explore how we enable public service workers to build a secure financial future. For more information, visit or follow the company on Facebook, LinkedIn, and X.

*As of January 31, 2024. Includes 457, 401, 403(b), Retirement Health Savings (RHS) plans, Employer Investment Program (EIP) plans, affiliated IRAs, and investment-only assets.

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