College Guide


July 01, 2013 3:11 PM One Third of Student Loan Borrowers Never Earned a Degree

By Daniel Luzer

Today many journalism outlets threw up stories about the interest rate on federal student loans, which doubled for new borrowers today due to congressional inaction.

But what do all of these loans buy? Turns out it’s often not a college degree. According to CBS News:

A third of the debtors are not college graduates, and 9 percent of them possess only a high school degree. The high school graduates may have incurred debt by pursuing nondegree training or helping to pay for a child’s education. Some 25 percent attended college but did not graduate.

So a quarter of all Americans making payments on student loans started and never finished college. That makes that whole justification for crushing student loan burdens sort of complicated.

Stephen Rose to wrote in the Atlantic last year that “student debt is an important and reasonable part of the funding system for institutions that prepare two-thirds of young people to become productive members of our economy and active members of our society.”

This doesn’t really work out so neatly, however, given that a whole lot more than “two-thirds of young people” started college and never finished.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • paul on July 02, 2013 2:28 PM:

    This isn't an anomaly, it's a feature.

    One of the biggest fights over the administration's proposed student-loan rules was about protecting the ability of for-profit loan mills to maintain access to the flow of federally-insured money. In a lot of ways, using shiny marketing to enroll people whose level of preparation for college is questionable, and then offering them negligible support if they get into academic trouble (or just not teaching them anything useful) is just a different version of the no-doc loans and teaser rates that got millions of people (briefly) into houses they couldn't afford, just so that someone could collect the fees.