How Bad Is It?

Just how bad has the student loan burden become? Rhetoric of crisis dominates the current popular discourse, while a few voices call for calm, noting that the average amount of student indebtedness is roughly equivalent to the price of a new car. Obscured by the dueling perspectives and the attention-grabbing headlines, though, is a more disconcerting picture revealing that all groups and types of students do not carry the growing debt burden equally: Lower-income households, women, and students of color are most affected by the mounting debt.

There is no shortage of alarming news stories. A recent headline in an article from the Gannett News Bureau raised the specter of a generation being threatened by debtor’s prison. Rohit Chopra, the ombudsman for the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, has likened the current student loan situation to the mortgage crisis, a sentiment echoed by Michelle Singletary in The Washington Post. Even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has sounded an alarm, noting that service members should not have to struggle to pay off college debt given their sacrifices.

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