A Silver Lining on Student Loans

There haven't been many positive stories written about student loans lately. The total student debt burden in the United States is expected to pass $1 trillion this year. Defaults on student loans are rising and more than a quarter of graduates are falling behind on their payments, according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

And that seems to have triggered a reaction among students. As the AP's Justin Pope finds, students are borrowing less–taking out just $8 billion in private loans last year, compared with $24 billion in 2007-08. Since private borrowing tends to be more expensive, that's potentially good news. Overall borrowing is down on per-student basis too, according to College Board numbers out last month.

For those who have taken out loans, it’s not a completely gloomy picture either. Students who borrow are more likely to attend college full-time, which correlates with a much higher graduation rate. More from Pope:

What’s the upside of borrowing? Federal data…shows roughly 86 percent of students who borrow for college are able to attend full-time, compared to 70 percent of students who don’t borrow.

That matters because roughly 60 percent of full-time students receive a bachelor’s degree within eight years, compared to 25 percent of part-time students.

As the student debt burden has risen, the rate of college completion has steadily increased. The percent of students who receive a bachelor’s degree within six years of college enrollment has increased from 52.2 percent in 1997 to 55.5 percent in 2009, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. It’s a relatively intuitive conclusion that often gets lost:

As student borrowing has increased, so has the rate of students completing their degrees in higher education.


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