10 Ways Student Debt Is Blocking the Economic Mobility of Young Americans

Tamara Draut

America’s experiment with the debt-for-diploma system has officially failed. Total student loan debt in the U.S. now tops $1 trillion – an unprecedented sum that represents the unprecedented obstacles students and recent graduates face in their pursuit of the American Dream.

Over the last several decades, our nation slowly and steadily shifted the burden of paying for college from a public responsibility to a private one, leaving most students with debt and leaving many potential students behind. As state funding declined and tuition at state universities rose in response, federal financial aid has shifted from making college affordable through grants to lower income students to providing loans that simply help families finance a college degree. 

It’s time to renew our commitment to an accessible and affordable higher education system in the United States. Debt is not financial aid—it allows students to pay for college but also raises the cost of a degree because all student loans, especially private loans, include interest charges and origination fees. The need for student loans has also created a very lucrative market for the private lenders and banks who, until 2010, profited from guarantees through the federal student loan system and who are benefiting today from the demand for financing beyond the federal loan program.

As activists across the country protest the debt-for-diploma system and its $1 trillion mark, below are the top ten reasons why our nation must embark on a new strategy to make college affordable as opposed to merely financeable through student loans.

America Shortchanges Higher Education

1.) From 1990 to 2010, state funding for public higher education fell 26.1 percent per full-time equivalent student, a major driver of rapidly rising tuition rates. Over the past 20 years there has been a breakdown in the historical funding pattern of recessionary cuts and expansionary rebounds. The length of time for higher education funding to recover following recessions has lengthened for every downturn since 1979 with early evidence suggesting that the recovery from the Great Recession will be no different.

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