Opinion: The Other Student Debt Crisis

"For most students, going to college means going into debt. As postsecondary education becomes more crucial than ever to middle-class opportunity, the majority of undergraduates have to borrow against their future in order to secure it. For those who do, the median burden is $17,000, but even smaller debt loads are unsustainable for many students," David Scobey writes for Inside Higher Ed.

"The affordability crisis has spurred initiatives for change: calls for tuition-free college, experiments with low-cost degrees, promise campaigns that guarantee aid to local college-goers. Meanwhile, student loan obligations have ballooned to more than $1.4 trillion -- a total that exceeds even Americans’ credit card debt.

All this is well-known. What is less recognized is a second debt crisis, smaller in financial scale, but perhaps even more punitive in its effect on students. This other crisis doesn’t concern the loans that college graduates owe bankers and the government. It concerns the money that college stop-outs owe the institutions from which they have failed to graduate: back tuition, housing bills, library and lab fees, and other unpaid balances that block them from either graduating or re-enrolling. Let’s call it the institutional debt crisis.

I realize what you may be thinking: surely unpaid bills are a sideshow to the real financial challenges facing students and their families. Surely they’re a matter of student fecklessness or irresponsibility, not a problem for op-eds and policy proposals.

But hear me out. The evidence suggests that the institutional debt crisis is a pervasive barrier to student success and a roadblock to current efforts to boost college attainment in the U.S. It’s a toxic by-product of two factors: the precariousness of many students’ lives and the tunnel vision of much administrative practice. I believe that it can be largely solved."

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.

 

Publication Date: 12/5/2017

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