Students Shouldn’t Be Terrified of Borrowing for College

I wrote the below letter to the editor of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, in response to a truly woeful editorial piece that they recently published on student loan debt. (Note: They eventually ran the letter, but here is a slightly revised version for your enjoyment.)


As a college professor who researches the implications of student loan debt, I was dismayed to read the Star-Ledger Editorial Board’s recent piece titled “Why we should all be terrified of student loans.” Yes, the $1.25 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is a concern, but the typical amount borrowed for a bachelor’s degree is more manageable—about $30,000 per student. Students who borrow from the federal government can also enroll in income-driven repayment programs that allow them to make small or no payments if their income is low.

The “terrified” headline has the potential to scare students and their families away from making a worthwhile investment in college. Research shows that low-income, first-generation, and minority students are particularly averse to borrowing for college, even when borrowing a reasonable amount of money would help them attend and graduate college. Students and their families should be careful about taking on too much debt, particularly from programs like New Jersey’s state student loan system that do not allow payments to be tied to the student’s income. But students should not be terrified of taking out modest loans from the federal government to make college a reality.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

6 thoughts on “Students Shouldn’t Be Terrified of Borrowing for College”

  1. Just wondering if the $30k student debt you quote also includes parent plus loans. Looking at the source, it’s not clear that the number does include that data and if it did, I’m sure the $30k would be much higher.

    1. I don’t believe it does, but since only about 10% of families have PLUS loans, the median may not go up that much even though some people get a lot of debt that way.

      1. Any suggestions on where to get more information on PLUS loans by school? Where is the 10% figure from? Thanks.

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