Student loan debt has been the focus of ominous headlines in recent months, and the underlying figures are indeed alarming. According to Federal Reserve data, Americans owed $1.5 trillion in student loans in the first quarter of 2018. Class of 2017 graduates averaged almost $40,000 in student loans.
Educators, policymakers, and advocates of all stripes are rightly dismayed by this fast-escalating problem. I add my voice to those expressing concern. From my perspective, though, much of the resulting commentary has failed adequately to account for the plight of an especially vulnerable cohort: those who take on college debt but do not graduate.
Student loan debt can be a serious obstacle to family formation, home buying, and other milestones of early adulthood. College graduates, including those with inordinately large debt loads, at least have the increased earnings power of their degrees to help them overcome such impediments. In contrast, former students who took on loan debt but did not graduate are doubly burdened: They must repay their debts while contending with comparatively fewer employment opportunities.
We at the Scholarship Foundation realize it isn’t enough to get students to college; they must complete their studies. In fact, we recently updated the organization’s mission statement to reflect our renewed emphasis on degree completion.
The good news is our work is already making a difference on this count: The six-year graduation rate among Scholarship Foundation award recipients is 81 percent, while the overall national average is 63 percent. In other words, our awardees are completing college more often than their peers throughout the country.
Needless to say, our efforts in this area will continue. With that in mind, please note that our application for the upcoming scholarship cycle will open October 15.