Data/Research: Student Loans
Understanding the data behind student loans is essential for reporters covering this beat.
Project on Student Debt, from The Institute for College Access & Success for annual reports on average debt-loads of four-year college graduates.
Federal Student Loan Data Center to download macro-level federal student loan information.
The Urban Institute’s Data Portal, which breaks down sometimes clunky government data into more digestible formats. You can look up defaults and loan repayment, plus many other education stats.
College Scorecard data for default and repayment rates by college and broken down by student demographics. These data can be difficult to sort and understand. Prepare to spend some time with it.
College Board’s annual Trends in Student Aid report for a historical look at borrowing levels together with statistics on grants and other financial aid.
Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which publishes quarterly statistics on household debt and delinquencies (including student loan debt), as well as research on other student debt topics.
MeasureOne used to publish quarterly reports on outstanding student debt, including the most comprehensive look at private student debt. The company shifted focused in 2019, so it won’t produce future reports on private debt, but you can access older ones here.
Long-Term Economic Effects of Student Debt
Countless surveys and news stories have documented the burden student loans place on young adults’ decisions to do everything from start a business to have a baby. Yet it’s difficult for researchers to measure whether student debt actually causes adverse financial effects for individuals. For one, there’s a limited time period of data, because today’s level of borrowing is unprecedented. But it’s also a challenging research topic. The demographics of households with and without student debt are quite different, so it’s difficult for researchers to control all the related background factors to pinpoint student debt as the central driver of, say, a decision to postpone buying a home.
Still, there is a small but growing body of research on how student debt is correlated with long-term outcomes. Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found college graduates are more likely to own a home, regardless of whether they have debt, than non-graduates. More recent work found a $1,000 increase in student loan debt causes a 1 to 2 percentage point drop in the homeownership rate for borrowers during their late 20s and early 30s. The researchers say their work suggests increases in student debt is an important factor in explaining declining homeownership rates, but not the only factor.
Other research focused on savings behavior finds similarly mixed effects. For example, workers with student debt were just as likely as their peers without debt to participate in workplace retirement plans, according to work published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The big difference was that those with debt put much less money into their retirement accounts — regardless of whether they carried a small or large amount of outstanding debt. The final takeaway: Graduates with student loans accumulate 50% less retirement wealth by age 30 than peers without loans.
Finally, recent work from two business professors shows how student debt is related to declining rates of entrepreneurship. The research finds individuals with student debt start fewer businesses, and when they do, the businesses are less successful.
Beware Some Sources
Beware sources: Surveys of student loan borrowers with loose methodology. Some surveys can have little value and exist to drive traffic to websites that make money through affiliate links. In one case, a company made up a so-called expert named Drew Cloud to promote its surveys.
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