HARI SREENIVASAN: And speaking of student debt, college affordability has become an issue in the election. We have been taking a look at what’s behind the growth of that debt and just how big a problem it is.
It’s part of our year-long series How the Deck Is Stacked, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Our partners at “Frontline” and Marketplace put together a video explainer that’s been drawing some attention for laying out the landscape of student debt.
Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal is our guide.
KAI RYSSDAL, Marketplace: Today, student debt is a staggering $1.3 trillion. But how bad is that for the economy and for the people holding all that debt?
There’s a debate going on right now, and some experts argue, maybe it’s not as bad as we think.
I’m Kai Ryssdal, and this is How the Deck Is Stacked.
One-point-three trillion dollars. So, how did we get here? One reason for the growth is simply because many more people have been going to college. During the great recession, when the economy tanked, a lot of people couldn’t get a job, so they decided to go back to school, and most people can’t pay for school without taking out some student loans.
In 2008, about 29 million people held student debt. By 2015, that was up to 40 million people. More people in school equals more overall debt. At the same time, the cost of college also went up, while state funding for higher education went down.
But, despite the rise in debt, some experts say that this idea of a crisis is overblown. Student debt is much smaller than mortgage debt, and so they say that shouldn’t tank the economy. They also argue that, for most of those 40 million people, taking on the debt is going to be OK.
The reality is, only 8 percent of debt holders owe more than $75,000. And many of those people went to graduate school, which should increase their earning potential. Then there are the majority of borrowers, almost 70 percent, who owe less than $25,000.
Now, that still is a whole lot of money for most of us. But, on average, people with a bachelor’s degree make around $20,000 more a year than those with only a high school diploma. So, while it may be a struggle in the short term, chances are, most will be able to pay it off.
But then there are the people who are really hurting, people who took out loans, but didn’t finish school. Most of them owe less than $10,000, which might seem small, but they won’t be getting the pay boost from a degree, and yet still have to pay back that debt. And with bills to pay, interest accruing, and fees, they can get behind pretty quickly.
For this group, the risk of taking on the debt might not have been worth it. But, for the majority of us, the investment might be. Yet many of us don’t feel that way. We know that because you told us.
In our Marketplace/Edison Research Poll, nearly 40 percent of you said the education wasn’t worth the debt. Why is this? Well, we’re not anxious about college debt in a vacuum. Right? We have got a lot of other economic worries on our minds.
HARI SREENIVASAN: That video actually was produced for the Web in 360 degrees, where you can point your phone in any direction to look around the story. You can see the full story by going to “Frontline”‘s Facebook page.