Why is Student Debt Such a Problem in the U.S.?

Why is Student Debt a Major Problem in the United States?

            Student debt is a quite common problem right now within the United States. Jannine Crucet wrote an article talking about her college experience. In Crucet’s article Taking My Parents to College, she talked about when she signed up for student loans. Crucet said, “Aside from a check-in with my financial aid officer when she explained what work-study was (I didn’t know and worried it meant I had to join the army or something) and where she had me sign for my loans, I was mostly keeping to myself to hide the fact that I was a very special kind of lost.” (Crucet). What Crucet mentioned is most likely relatable to a lot of college students in the U.S. right now, as we are in a student debt crisis. There are a lot of reasons as to why student debt became such an issue and how it is a problem now, but there are also things that can be done to fix it.

            Our country’s (the United States of America) history plays a big role on how student debt came about. Around the time period of 1890-1940 the only people who really went to college were people who were wealthy or wanted a religious education. Then over the years as time changed more and more people wanted to expand their education so colleges became open to a larger part of the population. Abigail Hess from CNBC Make It wrote an article where CNBC interviewed students, borrowers, historians, and experts to find out how student debt became a crisis in the United States. According to CNBC Make It in the late 1960s, “education costs were low and college enrollment grew; so did the U.S. economy.” (Hess). Colleges could have low tuition costs due to efficient government funding. Problems did not start until the Regan Era in the 1980s. CNBC Make It stated that “Reagan cut higher education funding and student aid, and college costs boomed as a result.” (Hess). This is saying that due to the tax revolt, state governments had to cut education funding. In order for colleges to stay open they had to increase tuition prices. Tuition prices have only gone up since then. CNBC Make It says the College Board said that “during the 1980-1981 school year, on average, it cost students the modern equivalent of $17,410 to attend a private college and $7,900 to attend a public college — including tuition, fees, room and board.” (Hess). In 2020 the average cost of tuition, room and board, and fees was said to be around $21,950 for in-state, and $38,330 for out-of-state. The high cost of college leads to many people obtaining a lot of student debt.

            According to the Journal of Literacy and Technology “Almost 45 million Americans hold student debt, which totals to an astronomical $1.64 trillion.” (Rubin, Alexanyan pg. 3). Around 66% of people who graduated from public colleges had an average debt of $25,550. The 75% percent of people who graduated from private, none-profit college had an average debt of $32,300. Having this much money to pay off can affect not only people who owe the money back, but the economy as well, which is why student-debt is such a large problem. Elyssa Kirkham wrote an article on Student Loan Hero about the effect that Student Debt has on people and the economy. Having a huge amount of student debt can delay people reaching their life milestones. Kirkham states that “There are many studies out there showing that this debt is causing consumers to delay first time home purchases, getting married, having children and retirement, just to name a few.” (Kirkham). If people have a huge amount of student debt to pay off then they will not have enough money to get married, have children, etc. causing them to fall behind on major life events. Another reason why student is a problem is that it slows the growth of new business. Kirkham mentions that “student loan debt means fewer new businesses are created…an associate professor of finance at Northeastern University, estimates that a person with $30,000 in student loans is 11% less likely to start a business than one who graduated debt-free.” (Kirkham). Student loans prevent spending and business which literally run the U.S. economy. The effects of student debt can slow economic growth and even its overall productivity.

            Even though student debt is a major problem there are still things that can be done to help get rid of some of it. An example would be Joe Biden’s $10,000 plan. Ben Holland and Alex Tanzi wrote an article showing the statistics and problems of student debt, but also mentioned possible solutions such as Biden’s plan. According to Holland and Tanzi, “Biden’s $10,000 plan would wipe out about $370 billion in loans…”. (The Battle Over Student Debt). This would cancel out $10,000 of student loan debt per person. Ryan Lane from Nerdwallet wrote an article explaining Biden’s $10,000 plan and how it would work. According to Lane Biden’s plan could “wipe out debt completely for nearly 15 million borrowers who owe $10,000 or less according to federal data.” (Lane). This means it would help 33% of loan borrowers pay off their student debt. Another way the government can help you repay your loans would be through loan forgiveness. FederalStudentAid has an article all about Loan forgiveness and how one can achieve it. Loan Forgiveness could be a good option for someone who cannot afford to pay back their loans. According to FederalStudentAid “loan forgiveness means you don’t have to pay back some or all of your loan.” (Student Loan Forgiveness). There are many different options of loan forgiveness for different careers so it is good to check what a person may be eligible for. An example of loan forgiveness would be Teacher Loan Forgiveness. FederalStudentAid states that “if you teach full time for five complete and consecutive academic years in certain elementary or secondary schools..you may be eligible for forgiveness of up to a combined total of $17,500 on eligible federal student loans.” (Student Loan Forgiveness). Different loans have different requirements, but if a person follows them correctly, they can have some or all of their loans paid off.

            Student Debt has been an ongoing crisis in the United States for many years. It seems to be a cycle within families because it is so difficult to pay off the loans that were needed for college education. The student debt crisis has caused people to not be able to live the life they went to college to achieve due to the extremely high costs of tuition. There are some ways to help, but the options are slim and somewhat complicated, and not everyone is eligible. There needs to be a change or else student debt will forever haunt the higher education system of the U.S.





       Hess, Abigail J. “How Student Debt Became a $1.6 Trillion Crisis.” CNBC, CNBC, 12 June 2020, www.cnbc.com/2020/06/12/how-student-debt-became-a-1point6-trillion-crisis.html.

Holland, Ben, and Alex Tanzi. “The Battle Over Student Debt.” Bloomberg Businessweek, no. 4684, Jan. 2021, pp. 22–24. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=bth&AN=147953424&site=eds-live&scope=site

Kirkham, Elyssa. “What Are the Effects of Student Loan Debt on the Economy?” Student Loan Hero, Lendingtree, 9 Feb. 2021, studentloanhero.com/featured/effects-of-student-loan-debt-us-economy/.

Rubin, Nancy, and Karina Alexanyan. “Data Science Reveals US Higher Education and Student Loan Systems Are Failing Students Who Need Them Most.” Journal of Literacy & Technology, vol. 22, no. 1, Spring 2021, pp. 92–125. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=eue&AN=149642998&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Lane, Ryan. “Joe Biden’s Student Loan Plan: What’s Happening Now.” NerdWallet, NerdWallet Inc., 21 Apr. 2021, www.nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/joe-biden-student-loans.

“Student Loan Forgiveness (and Other Ways the Government Can Help You Repay Your Loans).” An Office of the U.S. Department of Education, FederalStudentAid, studentaid.gov/articles/student-loan-forgiveness/.

Sheila Dixon’s Academic Self

        This essay contains information from an interview transcript with Sheila Dixon about her academic self. We called each other on the phone and shared our academic histories, frustrations, and goals. Sheila is 45 years old and is from Buffalo New York. She attended grades k-12 there, but she did not go to college immediately after high school. When I asked her if there was a specific reason as to why she did not go immediately, she said, “I ended up getting pregnant and I wanted to be the one to raise my daughter. I did not want anyone to do that for me.” She first went to college in 1997 where she attended Erie Community College. Later in 2014 she moved to Georgia and started at Georgia State University in the Spring of 2019. She is majoring in Nursing, and her overall career goal is to start her own traveling nurse business. Her favorite subject is psychology which she believes is important in nursing because you should know how the mind works.

        When asked how she would describe her academic self she said that she is a hard worker. She is often very busy during the day but still manages to make time for her schoolwork. She is quite intuitive and tries to find ways that make college work the best for her. An example would be that she is going right for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree instead of just becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and then going back to school. She even said, “I did not want to leave to become an LPN and then come back to school later because I know once I leave school I will not come back.”

        During the interview Sheila told me that I should get to know my professors. She said that even though I am online I should email them, so they will know who I am as a student. She believes that you are likely to do better in a class if you develop some kind of a relationship with the teacher. What she said here is linked to the Vimeo video about the differences between in person and online courses. When you are taking an online class, you are not able to talk to classmates, or ask about due dates right then and there. This means that when you are taking an online class notifying your professor during their office hours through email, text, call, etc. is extremely important. If you have a question about your work, you should ask the professor. This way you can be sure that you are going to get the grade that you want in the class. Sheila’s advice that she gave me goes along with the information given in this video.

        College can be fun, but many people face challenges throughout their college experience. Sheila mentioned a few challenges that she is facing right now. The first one is that since she is 45, she has a harder time with some subjects since she is not right out of high school like other college students. The second challenge for her is that she finds it annoying that she must take prerequisite classes that have nothing to do with her major. The final challenge she deals with is test anxiety. She tends to get nervous while taking tests and often second guesses herself. She said that these challenges make it hard for her however, she mentioned that she found something that has helped her. Sheila said she really liked Dr. Steven Chew’s videos on study strategies and metacognitive behavior that help students become successful. In the videos he gives good studying strategies to follow and mentions what not to do when studying. Sheila took note of what he said and has been trying new studying tactics.


        The conclusion of the interview with Sheila is that no matter how old someone is, or what challenges they face in life, they can still go to college and reach their goals. Sheila was a young mom, but she did not put too much pressure on herself about going to school. She waited until the time was right for her. She really thought about what she wanted to do and chose the right degree program for her lifestyle. Even though she may not be like the typical college student she has found ways to be successful, and she encourages others to do the same.



Chew, Stephen. “How to Study.” How to Get the Most Out of Studying, www.samford.edu/departments/academic-success-center/how-to-study.

Dixon, Sheila. “Academic Self.” 29 Jan. 2021.