Democrats want everyone to go to college. What happens when everyone is saddled with debt?

Doug Lederman reports at Inside Higher Ed.

More Grads Have ‘Excessive’ Debt

The growing public focus on student loan debt in recent years has been driven by some numbers that really matter (like the passing of the $1 trillion threshold in the amount of total outstanding loan debt) and some that are less meaningful (anecdotal reports about the occasional baristas who accumulated $120,000 in debt, an outlier level when the average is about a quarter of that).

Exactly which data points tell the true story about the seriousness of the student debt crisis is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. But Mark Kantrowitz, one of the country’s sharpest analysts of student aid, offers one way of looking at the issue in a new paper. It strives to define what unmanageable or “excessive” student debt looks like (as many others, including the Obama administration in its gainful employment regulations, have before him), and then uses the best available data (imperfect as they are) to gauge how many have it.

Kantrowitz finds that the proportion of undergraduate student loan borrowers who are graduating with debt he defines as excessive (having to spend at least 10 percent of their gross monthly income on debt payments) has actually stayed fairly constant over the last two decades, at roughly one in four. That’s the good news.

The bad is that the proportion of all graduates who had to borrow to pay for college has risen steadily, resulting in a meaningful increase in the proportion of all graduates who meet the excessive debt threshold — to 14.4 percent in 2007-8, up from 11.9 percent in 2003-4 and 9.8 percent in 1993-4, according to data from the federal government’s Baccalaureate and Beyond longitudinal study. Students in certain low-paying fields (theology, communications and agriculture, for instance), women (who typically earn less than men), and low-income students are likelier than their peers to have excessive debt, Kantrowitz finds.