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College Debt Crushing New Graduates

By Josh MitchellJune 7, 2019 12:08 p.m. ET

The U.S. student loan system is broken.

How broken? The numbers tell the story. Borrowers currently owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans, an average of $34,000 per person. Over two million of them have defaulted on their loans in just the past six years, and the number grows by 1,400 a day. After years of projecting big profits from student lending, the federal government now acknowledges that taxpayers stand to lose $31.5 billion on the program over the next decade, and the losses are growing rapidly.

Meanwhile, four in 10 recent college graduates are in jobs that don’t require a degree, according to the New York Federal Reserve. And many American colleges are dropout factories: At more than a third of them, less than half of the students who enroll earn a credential within eight years, according to the think tank Third Way.

The U.S. is shoveling more and more money into a highly inefficient system that, polls find, Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with. College tuition has soared 1,375% since 1978, more than four times the rate of overall inflation, Labor Department data show. The U.S. now spends more on higher education than any other developed country (except Luxembourg)—about $30,000 a student, according to the OECD. Meanwhile, college presidents are being handsomely rewarded for the success of their enterprises: Seventy of them, including a dozen at public colleges, earned over $1 million in 2016-17, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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