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A look at how student loan borrowers often don't finish their degree

Student loan debt
Posted at 2:07 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 16:07:03-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - This weekend, the House voted to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill.

Many student borrowers have sifted through the details wondering, "What does this mean for me and my wallet?"

While the legislation does not outline any direct student loan relief, lawmakers continue to debate how to remediate the debt crisis.

Mark Huelsman is a fellow at the Student Borrower Protection Center and has been researching student debt for years. In an interview with News 3 Reporter Erin Miller, he said, "The student debt crisis is big, and it is growing."

To quantify and populate a universal data set, the U.S. Department of Education keeps track of students yearly.

"Where they're going, what type of institution they are going to, what's their financial situation before school and when they're in school, whether they graduate and what the costs are that they are incurring," said Huelsman.

In order to see how graduation rates and student loan debt have fared in the last six to eight years, Huelsman analyzed the numbers nationwide.

"What I found was that a pretty high number: About four in 10 students who took on any loans for college did not graduate within six years," he said. "We know that people who have debt but aren't able to complete their degree are often in a pretty rough spot, right? You get sort of all the costs, and none of the rewards if you take on debt and don't finish."

This statistic gained traction when leaders like Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts took to Twitter.

They, like many other Democrats, are advocating for the cancellation of student debt.

When asked why so many people leave school without finishing a degree, Huelsman said research indicates that "college is expensive and life is expensive. Most people dropping out of school tend to cite some sort of financial reason for doing so. Another case is that you have students enrolling in a program that turns out to be low quality or worse - predatory or fraudulent - and they walk away after they have forked over thousands, or in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars."

As we have seen, those scenarios have long-lasting effects.

Higher education doesn't just come at the price of tuition. Huelsman points to the cost of housing and rent, possible childcare, and supplies to succeed.

"We [also] can’t talk about student debt and the problem of student debt in this country without talking about race," Huelsman said. "We know that Black and brown borrowers are facing pretty substantial hurdles when it comes to student debt. They tend to have more debt than white families, you know; they tend to have longer payments; they borrow more often and with often less payoff and more hurtles when they leave school. The amount of debt they're taking on also has to do with the racial wealth gap in this country that has been pretty consistent over time."

On Capitol Hill, Democrats want President Biden to forgive $50,000 in debt through an executive order. The President has rejected that number, but the White House has signaled they may forgive a lower amount. In the past, President Biden has supported forgiving $10,000.

This story was first published by Erin Miller at WTKR.