The Big Story Blog

3 things to know about student debts and college costs

Posted at 4:30 PM on October 27, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Education

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(MPR Photo/Tim Post)

Is it worth it? That's what it comes down to when we all start to calculate how much it will cost to go to college, or send a kid there. Most of us can't afford to just write a check. Often it comes down to debt, how much we're willing to take on and whether it will overwhelm us later.

We've been chasing stories and perspective today on the struggles of many people dealing with college debt given President Obama's decision to let students cap payments on federal student loans to 10 percent of their discretionary income faster than originally planned.

We may have raised more questions than we answered. But here are some things we learned today.

1.) It's unsustainable. At the start of the day, we highlighted a post from The Atlantic arguing that Obama's newest effort would only benefit certain student debt holders to the tune of $4 to $8 a month. More important, though, was a graphic accompanying the post.

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It's starting to see how student debt's grown in the decade compared to income. Student loans volume has doubled in a decade and Americans now owe more on student loans than credit cards

2.) It's a mixed bag on whether it was worth it. We heard a swath of stories from Minnesotans in MPR's Public Insight Network about the decision to go into debt for college and if the pay off was worth the burden.

In a better economy, most of the readers would have shouted "Yes!" Instead, it's complicated. Even a reader who went into the medical field and found work told us his income isn't enough to cover his bills and $70,000 college debt.

There's no doubt that there's a huge long term payoff for those who earn a degree compared to those who don't. It's hard to see that though behind a mountain of debt.

3.) Biggest problems are at community colleges, for-profit career schools It's logical to assume that those who took on too much debt are those who are now delinquent on paying. If that's the case, then we really need to focus on two-year public colleges and for-profit career schools. In Minnesota, those institution make up 40 percent of the college enrollment and 80 percent of the student loan delinquencies.

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I'd guess that's pretty similar to the rest of the country. So could a lot of the student loan crisis be fixed by targeting specific problems at those schools with students taking on more than they could possibly pay off?

Learn anything today about student loans and college costs that we missed? Post something below or contact us directly.


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.