There’s much buzz today about student loan debt—and the way it cripples college graduates each year.
In March, the Department of Education forgave loans for borrowers who were “misled” about the prospects of employment after college. But there is demand for more, from forgiving up to $10,000 in federal loans, $50,000 in federal loans, or even canceling debt entirely.
The proposals range from the interesting to the absurd, but there is no denying that the $1.6 trillion student loan debt is a problem for our nation.
But how we deal with that problem is another question. What’s certain is that we at least need to know the problem first. Calls to “cancel debt” and “forgive loans” don’t exist in a vacuum, even if the superhuman numbers make them hard to reckon with.
The conversation about the student loan crisis needs to take into account countless questions related to the job market, the “changing economy,” demographic shifts, and much else besides.
A first step in making judgments about how to address the student loan crisis is knowing the numbers and the trends. How much debt is there? How has it been growing? Who owes all this debt?
Fortunately, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation recently posted 10 key facts about student debt in the U.S. to offer some initial insight into the shape of this “bubble.” The facts, of course, offer no solutions, but they are fodder for insights, a starting place for thinking about the debt crisis and how to address it.
Fact #5 stands out initially. 56% of the overall student loan debt is graduate school debt. That’s an important figure. Too many employers today require a college education, making high school students feel like a college degree is necessary—whatever it costs. We’re not yet at the point where most Americans should feel as if a graduate degree is necessary without a clear career trajectory.
If the majority of student loan debt is graduate school debt, we need to ask serious questions about the social factors—and poor decisions—driving this growing debt before we make blanket decisions about wiping it away.
There’s much to consider about the student loan bubble, and the PGPF study provides important context about background data for this conversation.