Student Loans

Overview

Student Loans

About 44 million people in the U.S. owe on student loans. At more than $1.5 trillion, education debt now exceeds our credit card balances and auto loans.

About 44 million people in the U.S. owe on student loans. At more than $1.5 trillion, education debt now exceeds our credit card balances and auto loans.

Student loans have become so ingrained in our culture that they’ve appeared everywhere from workplace benefits packages to game show awards. And as tuition continues to rise – it has more than tripled since the 1970s - student debt headlines are  likely to continue to drive traffic for local papersmagazines and national TV broadcasts.

While most Americans say student loans are worth the cost in the long run, nearly nine in 10 also believe that too many borrowers have a hard time paying back their debt. Arguments over the best way to address the country’s collective burden have grown into a divisive political topic.

Because student debt is such a hot topic, it’s also easy for time-pressed journalists to fall into common reporting traps, such as highlighting misleading statistics or publicizing extreme cases of borrowing as if they were typical.

The following information will help journalists find reliable data, cut through misleading statistics and understand the nuances of the federal loan system, including who is borrowing and how well they are repaying.

Updated September 2020

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Data/Research: Student Loans

Understanding the data behind student loans is essential for reporters covering this beat.

General

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.

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Glossary: Student Loans

Consolidation

Consolidation combines multiple federal loans into a single, new loan. It does not reduce the amount of interest a borrower pays — the new loan will carry a weighted average interest rate of the existing loans — but consolidation can be useful to access certain repayment plans. If a borrower has loans from before 2011 or a Perkins loan, consolidation is necessary to access income-driven repayment or Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

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What to Know About Debt Forgiveness

In the years since then presidential candidate Bernie Sanders introduced the idea of widespread debt forgiveness into the mainstream, it’s become a common rallying cry among younger, progressive voters. Here’s a breakdown of the existing options and new proposals.

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Student Debt and Race

A college degree is widely considered one of the most reliable paths toward upward economic mobiilty. But for minority students, that promise often falls short. That’s in part because student debt exacerbates existing racial wealth gaps.

EWA 74th National Seminar text graphic
Seminar

74th EWA National Seminar
Virtual, May 2-5, 2021

The Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar will focus on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Four afternoons of conversations, training and presentations will give attendees deeper understanding of these crises, as well as tools, skills and context to help them better serve their communities — and advance their careers. 

To be held May 2-5, 2021, the seminar will feature education newsmakers, including leaders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and journalists. And it will offer practical data and other skills training. 

Pathways: Experts Offer a Quick Roundup on Student Loan Forgiveness
Webinar

Pathways: Experts Offer a Quick Roundup on Student Loan Forgiveness
Webinar will provide journalists with resources, context and answers about education debt forgiveness plans.

Proposals to forgive some or all of the nation’s $1.5 trillion in student loans are making headlines as the Biden administration considers how to restart the economy and make the U.S. education system more equitable.

In this EWA webinar, speakers discussed the impact of student debt forgiveness on access to higher education and pathways to good jobs. They shared their insights and answered audience questions on this pressing topic.

Education Surges to Top Tier of Presidential Race Amid Pandemic
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education Surges to Top Tier of Presidential Race Amid Pandemic
Journalists offer insights, story ideas on covering the schools angle

Education is not typically an issue that comes to the forefront in presidential races.

But months of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic have elevated conversations about how schools and elected officials are tackling the issue. In fact, education took a front seat in high-stakes negotiations this summer over a federal stimulus bill that has stalled.