Gee, who could have seen this coming? Maybe Obama’s decision to nationalize the student loan program wasn’t such a great idea after all. The New York Times reports.

At a protest last year at New York University, students called attention to their mounting debt by wearing T-shirts with the amount they owed scribbled across the front — $90,000, $75,000, $20,000.

On the sidelines was a business consultant for the debt collection industry with a different take.

“I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent — for our industry,” the consultant, Jerry Ashton, wrote in a column for a trade publication, “It was lip-smacking.”

Though Mr. Ashton says his column was meant to be ironic, it nonetheless highlighted undeniable truths: many borrowers are struggling to pay off their student loans, and the debt collection industry is cashing in.

As the number of people taking out government-backed student loans has exploded, so has the number who have fallen at least 12 months behind in making payments — about 5.9 million people nationwide, up about a third in the last five years.

In all, nearly one in every six borrowers with a loan balance is in default. The amount of defaulted loans — $76 billion — is greater than the yearly tuition bill for all students at public two- and four-year colleges and universities, according to a survey of state education officials.

To get the money back, the Department of Education last fiscal year paid more than $1.4 billion to collection agencies and other groups to hunt down defaulters.

Hiding from the government is not easy.