Millennial Student Debt

The Millennial Student Debt study aims to present a country-wide analysis and visualization of student debt and its relationship with demographic characteristics, school characteristics and labor market characteristics, and how these relationships have changed over the past decade.

The project name refers to the key focus of our study–student debt, in its many forms, sizes and payment schemes–but we are especially interested in the decisions leading up to and following debt take-up. These decisions include, for example, things that affect a person’s student debt load, like demographic characteristics, location, degree pursued, school attended; we also examine how this particular type of debt shapes individuals’ repayment behavior on other debt types, status and mobility in the labor market (such as those statistics from ADP’s Workforce Vitality Report), and social decisions like when to marry and where to live.

Additional research on the effects of institutional concentration on net tuition costs, as well as the relationship between federal/state funding and workforce trends, complement and contextualize our research on student debt.

Project leads: Laura BeamerMarshall SteinbaumFrancis Tseng, and Eduard Nilaj.

Contact us about this project:

In This Series

Part 1

Unequal and Uneven: The Geography of Higher Education Access

Previous research on the geography of higher ed has simply reported the number of institutions in a given area. But the raw number of schools is ambiguous, as it fails to account for enrollment. We wanted to complicate the picture: given the uneven distribution of higher ed institutions and institution types—public and private non-profits, as well as for-profits of all kinds—around the country, we wanted to examine what role market concentration might play in a higher education industry increasingly characterized by a wide divide between elite institutions and the landscape of what Tressie McMillan Cottom has termed “Lower Ed.”

Part 2

Declining Access, Rising Cost: The Geography of Higher Education Post-2008

Our goal in this study is to help policymakers understand the changing landscape of US higher education since 2008, and to direct attention to geographical areas likely to be the most adversely impacted by continued austerity in higher education.

Part 3

Unceasing Debt, Disparate Burdens: Student Debt and Young America

Since the Great Recession, outstanding student loan debt in the United States has increased by 122% in 2019 dollars, reaching the staggering sum of $1.66 trillion in June of this year. Student loan debt has grown faster than other debt types, including auto, credit card and mortgage debt. For many, education is the only pathway towards good employment with benefits, leading to economic and social opportunities later in life. But as college becomes more unaffordable with each passing year, student loans are bridging the ever-expanding chasm between college savings and obtaining an education. The crisis has reached the national political arena, with policymakers recently calling for debt cancellation up to $50,000 for federal borrowers.

Part 3A

Congressional Overlay

An interactive map of congressional-level student debt trends from 2009 to 2019.

Part 4

The Student Debt Crisis Is a Crisis of (Non-)Repayment

Over the last ten years, as outstanding student loan debt has mounted and been assumed by a more diverse, less affluent group of students and their families than was the case for prior cohorts, a common policy response has been to wave away its impact on wealth, both individually and in aggregate, by saying that the debt finances its own repayment.

Part 5

Student Debt and Young America Annual Report and Comparison Tool

This tool allows for interactive comparisons of higher education and debt statistics for specific geographic areas at the national, state or congressional district level.

Position Post

Student loans, the racial wealth divide, and why we need full student debt cancellation

“No matter what you want to do with your life, I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it,” President Barack Obama said in a 2009 national address to students. Such guidance is regularly told to Black people: The way to get out of poverty and achieve middle class status is to get a college degree.

Part 6

Hysteresis and Student Debt

Sérgio Pinto and Marshall Steinbaum bring together the labor economics literature on hysteresis and ongoing research into shape of the student debt, plotting how the Great Recession drove the crisis of higher education loan debt.

Part 7

How Schools Lie: The Deceptive Financial Aid System at America’s Colleges

A view into how colleges mislead students about the true cost of college, which exacerbates delays in completion, drop outs, and debt.

Part 8

Homeownership and the Student Debt Crisis

The homeownership rate among student borrowers declined by 24 percent from 2009 to 2019. Asian- and Black-plurality US Census Tracts saw the steepest declines in homeownership rates—47.7% and 40.6%, respectively. 

Part 9

Rules, Accountability, and the Student Debt Crisis

An overview of institutional trends in higher education which heavily influence student access and indebtedness.

Part 10

The Distribution of Student Debtors: Data, Narrative, and Debt Cancellation

The report analyzes demographic distributions of student debt burdens and repayment, providing a counterpoint to narratives that suggest the wealthy are disproportionately burdened by student debt and an inability to repay their loans.

Part 11

Student Debt and Young America in 2022 – Annual Report and Data Comparison Tool

The annual report provides a full analysis of the state of student debt in 2022—and what it could look like after debt cancellation.

Part 12

The Repayment Pause and the Continuing Crisis of Non-Repayment

Part 12 in the Millennial Student Debt Series, this report analyzes student loan repayment during the pandemic repayment moratorium.

Part 13

Student Debt and Homeownership Barriers in Washington, D.C.

Part 13 in the Millennial Student Debt Series, this collaborative report sheds light on the intertwined challenges of student loan debt and homeownership faced by young debtholders in Washington, D.C.

Part 14A

Student Debt Relief for Borrowers with Negative Amortization

The first installment of Part 14 in the Millennial Student Debt Series, this report analyzes systemic issues in student debt non-repayment and negative amortization, providing data-driven insights to inform the Department of Education’s 2023-2024 Negotiated Rulemaking session and aid in improving the financial stability of borrowers facing mounting student debt burdens.

Issue Brief

The Right Way to Cancel Student Debt

A collaboration between JFI and Debt Collective, the issue brief makes a data-driven case for universal, automatic, and generous debt cancellation

Special Report

Cost Deception at Elite Private Colleges

Following Millennial Student Debt Part 7, "How Schools Lie: The Deceptive Financial Aid System at America's Colleges," Laura Beamer and Eduard Nilaj scrutinize deceptive practices at top-ranked schools.

Part 15

A First Look at Student Debt Cancellation

The first analysis of the policy-driven student debt cancellation that has been enacted over the last several years.

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