In the News

Can the Debt Discussion Graduate?

Ben Miller explores why student loan debt has dominated the national conversation about higher education.

Authors

  • Ben Miller

“It’s not just about cost and debt.” That’s one big message from a lengthy speech delivered by Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County last week. The address signaled a desire to move beyond the current national obsession from Congress, presidential candidates and others with “debt free” college, instead trying to broaden the higher education policy conversation to focus more on outcomes, quality and completion. Such debt fatigue is understandable, but student loans remain the best leverage point to a national conversation about higher education. The trick is not ditching debt from the discourse; it’s leveraging it to broaden the discussion.

There’s a structural reason that student debt dominates the higher education policy discussion: It affects a broader swath of Americans than those who have concerns about completion. Around 70 percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree take on debt. Even among families making $120,000, about half still borrow. By contrast, just 11 percent of students from families earning $120,000 or more drop out of college, a rate three times lower than their peers from families making $30,000 or less.

The above excerpt was originally published in U.S. News & World Report. Click here to view the full article.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Authors

Ben Miller

Vice President, Postsecondary Education