New Student Debt Report Compares Debtor Makeup to Narratives on Debt Cancellation

JFI’s newest report, “The Distribution of Student Debtors: Data, Narrative and Debt Cancellation,” provides a view into the makeup of student debtors across class, income, race, gender, and degree type. The results contradict prevalent narratives of regressivity in the Biden Administration’s recent debt cancellation measure.

From the report:

“These trends counter the narrative that average balances are higher in the mid- to highwealth distribution. We find, instead, that while the most burdened borrowers have middle- and higher-incomes, they come from the poorest households. Wealth, then, is a much stronger determinant of high student burdens than income….A student’s financial and social position upon entering college, including the predisposition to borrow, holds much more weight on ex-post financial stability than previously thought.”

Written by JFI Lead Researcher in Higher Education Finance Laura Beamer with research assistance from Eduard Nilaj, the report is the tenth installment in the ongoing Millennial Student Debt project. The next posts in the series include: a deep-dive into student debt burdens in Washington, DC, where average balances rank worst in the country; and our second annual report and map, with national trends in student debt and COVID-19 repayment pause impacts.

Read the full paper here.

JFI’s ongoing series on millennial student debt, led by Laura Beamer, Eduard Nilaj and JFI senior fellow Marshall Steinbaum, has covered topics such as: student debt after the 2008 recession, regional disparities in student debt, the inadequacy of income driven repayment to address the expanding student debt crisis, front-loading aid practices at many universities, homeownership and student debt, and accountability mechanisms within higher education regulations. The series also includes a number of interactive data visualizations, including the Millennial Student Debt – Comparison Tool, which allows for interactive comparisons of higher education and debt statistics for specific geographic areas at the national, state or congressional district level.

Reach out to for any inquiries regarding this report or to speak with the author.

From the series:
Millennial Student Debt