Why Do Some Students Boomerang?

on January 9, 2017

Some students return home to live with their parents after college, known as boomeranging, and some do not. A new paper finds that boomeranging correlates with college completion, not student loan debt, as previously assumed.


Students who boomerang have less student loan debt than students who don’t return to live with their parents. They also are less likely to have student loan debt.

  • The average student loan debt among students who boomeranged was $14,500. Students who didn’t boomerang had about $18,400 in student loan debt.
  • Only a quarter of students who boomeranged had student loan debt, compared with two-fifths of students who never boomeranged.

The report by Jason N. Houle of Dartmouth College and Cody Warner of Montana State University, Into the Red and Back to the Nest? Student Debt, College Completion, and Returning to the Parental Home among Young Adults (Sociology of Education 90(1):89-108, 2017), finds that college dropouts have more than a 40 percent greater risk of boomeranging than college graduates.


For students who attended 2-year programs, those who drop out are 43 percent more likely to boomerang. For students who attended 4-year programs, those who drop out are 44 percent more likely to boomerang.


The main exception was with black students, where 10 percent greater student loan debt correlates with a 20 percent higher risk of boomeranging. The amount of student loan debt had no impact on boomeranging by white students.


"Young adults who boomerang are also more likely to be younger, to be black, and to have lower PSE attainment and are less likely to attain a degree and more likely to attend for-profit institutions," according to the paper. 


Students who boomerang have 2.1 years of postsecondary education, on average, compared with 3.9 years for students who never boomerang.


The authors believe that boomeranging is driven by economic strain, which is tied to the disparity between debt and income, not necessarily debt by itself. People who have student loan debt but no degree are more likely to boomerang because they experience more financial strain.


Student loan debt on its own does not contribute to an increased risk of returning home, because higher student loan debt levels tend to correlate with higher completion rates. Student loan debt has a more severe impact on black students than white students, because black students have fewer family financial resources to fall back on.

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