The Headlines: 

People are fleeing the US to keep from paying off their student loans Business Insider May 31, 2019

Elizabeth Warren: Forgive college debt, make public college free USA Today, April 23, 2019

The student debt crisis has some asking if college is worth the cost CNBC.Com April 3, 2019

Student-loan debt is crushing millennials and stressing them out The Denver Post November 5, 2018

Behind The Headlines:

The basic theme in these stories is that college has become so expensive that students increasingly rely on loans to fund their education and the resulting burden of student debt has kept millennials from realizing the American Dream of home ownership and wealth accumulation. One such story claimed that “college tuition has more than doubled since the 1980s” and “consequently, millennials have taken on at least 300% more student debt than their parents”. This sounded a little wacky to me so I decided to investigate the matter further.  

What I found is that “published” tuition and fees have indeed gone up a lot over the last few decades. But what college students actually pay is another matter. That is, after accounting for tax credits, tax deductions, and grants, the cost of college hasn’t risen nearly as much as is often asserted. It’s actually cheaper now to attend community college than it was two decades ago. Check it out:

_2019 College Costs.png

Keep in mind the above net prices are just averages. Some students pay much less than others. For instance, in 2015-16 average net tuition/fees for dependent students with parents earning less than $35,000 were less than zero at public four-year colleges, compared to over $10,000 for dependent students whose parents earned $120,000 or more.

Note also that federal student loans peaked a few years ago:

_2019 College Financial Aid.png

As it turns out , the median monthly payment on student loans has remained essentially flat for about 20 years. - a manageable 3-4% of earnings. Well, manageable for most college graduates., especially those with professional degrees (who also tend to take out the largest student loans). No, the ones to worry about are the young adults who never finished college and who are struggling with relatively modest levels ($1,000-$5,000) of student debt. Their problem isn’t so much that they owe too much but that they earn too little.


“The student debt crisis isn't what you think it is” by Glenn C. Altschuler/The Hill   May 5, 2019