NEW YORK (MainStreet) — $1 trillion plus—that's the current value of outstanding post-secondary student loans and the benchmark that routinely draws attention whenever it appears.
The College Board today released another look into the cost of higher education that yielded some new metrics: despite the relentless increase in student loans, the rate of tuition increases at universities and colleges has fallen for the second year in a row.
But so has government aid which can impact the need to borrow—also for the second year in a row. Students could be forgiven for thinking that they're just spinning their wheels when it comes to their finance issues, even if they buy into the notion that things have improved just because, by some standards, they haven't gotten worse.
The report, part of the College Board's 30th annual Trends in Student Aid, along with a companion report, Trends in College Pricing, concludes that in an economy that continues to struggle, students and families are still forced to pay more for their educations.
"This year's slowing of the price spiral does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable, that concerns about student debt will be set aside, or that low- and moderate-income students will no longer face financial hurdles as they pursue their educational ambitions," said Sandy Baum, an economist at the College Board. "But it is good news, and we hope it will allow more focus on helping students to access the available financial aid and to enroll and succeed in college."
Founded in 1900 and based in New York City, the College Board is a not-for-profit organization that attempts to enhance the college experience, increase access to post-secondary education and provides help in SAT and Advanced Placement Program preparation. Over 6,000 colleges and universities are members.
Federal loans make up 43% of student aid, the report said, the lowest share in at least a decade, but to conclude that there is less dependency on loans is belied by that $1 trillion-and-climbing figure. Another 7 million people with student loans are in default, a smaller but potentially more worrisome cohort. The percentage of borrowers who defaulted on their federal loans inside two years of their first repayment increased for the sixth straight year, according to Department of Education statistics released the day before the federal government shutdown.
A policy paper by the Washington-based Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project framed the problem this way: "We don't have a debt crisis but a repayment crisis." The Brookings solution would swap the current smorgasbord of re-payment options for an income-based alternative, where borrowers would have a percentage of their earnings deducted from their paycheck—a plan with some similarities to Oregon's Pay It Forward, Pay It Back, where students can go to any Oregon state school without first getting a student loan, but sign a contract obligating them to pay a fixed percentage of their gross income once they find work.
--Written by John Sandman for MainStreet