The Student Loan Crisis ... Isn't

The Student Loan Crisis ... Isn't

Why you should care

Because if we’re going to have a national conversation about a problem, we should make sure we’re all on the same page. 

Is the student loan crisis overblown? You’ve probably heard about the collective student loan debt in the U.S. surpassing $1 trillion. And the concerns that debt loads keep many young professionals from buying a house or investing in their retirement funds.

But maybe it’s not as bad as the panicked news stories have assumed.

Only 2%

of 20-somethings owed more than $100,000 on college loans

Source: Brookings Institution

And the breakdown of who owes what doesn’t seem so scary, in their stats. Many of those with major debt loads attended grad school. Hold a bachelor’s degree only, and the average debt has risen about $10,000 per student. Which isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly not overwhelming for someone with a degree from a decent university who used that paper to land an OK job, considering that average salaries have risen almost as much.

In fact, the average monthly loan payment hasn’t changed much since 1992 — it’s still 3 or 4 percent of income. Try to say that about almost anything else you buy (the cost of a gallon of gas that year? $1.13. Enough said.)

In general, while college costs have gone up, the ability to pay for them is somewhat on par. And folks with a college degree are still more likely to have a job, and to earn more at that job, than those who never donned the robe and cap. Maybe Yale tuition or medical school isn’t in the cards for every 18-year-old — but really, should it be?

So yes, rising college costs and an economy that increasingly demands a college degree when hiring mean a lot of debt for some folks, and enough debt for others that it holds them back from the American dream. We’re not saying that’s a good thing.

But maybe we’re not quite as poorly off as we thought.

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