Consumer Reports Partners with Reveal to Investigate the Nation’s $1.3 Trillion Student Debt Crisis—what caused it and What People Can Do About It

Share Article

CR survey finds 45% of people who have left college with student loan debt say college was not worth the cost; More than half reported problems making loan payments at least once

CR August 2016 Issue

Consumer Reports has partnered with the nonprofit Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to produce a special report examining the nation’s growing student debt crisis, in which some 42 million people owe $1.3 trillion. The report explores how the crisis occurred, and what people—including parents and students—can do about it today.

The education debt report is being released concurrently today by both institutions, with a cover story in Consumer Reports’ August issue, and online at both ConsumerReports.org/studentdebt and RevealNews.org/studentdebt . CR and Reveal contributed unique pieces of content, including separate articles reported and written by each organization, along with videos, infographics, survey findings, and student profiles. Reveal’s version of the investigation dives deeper into the players and decisions that created the student debt crisis today—including the roles played by banks and investment firms, private investors, debt collection agencies, the federal government, and public universities. In addition, the topic is the focus of Reveal’s hour-long public radio show and podcast, which begins airing on public radio stations across the country starting on Saturday, July 2, and will be available on the Reveal podcast on Monday, July 4: revealnews.org/podcast.

CIR and Consumer Reports also are partnering on a social media campaign using the hashtag #mydebtcouldbuy. On Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, we are asking readers to share the amount they owe in student debt, paired with the hashtag and an example of what they could purchase for that amount: for example, a new car, a tropical vacation, or 2,500 cups of coffee.

The two organizations hope that this joint effort will illuminate the forces that led to the debt crisis, illustrate the profound and lasting impact the debt can have, and offer practical advice for those looking to avoid the trap. The report includes a guide on how parents can have a frank talk about financing college with their teens, built around 10 key questions every family should discuss before they choose a school.

Degrees of Debt & Regret

Because the data consistently shows that getting a college education translates into a better future and higher lifetime earnings, it should be worth the money you spend on it. But try telling that to the 1,500 Americans with student debt who responded to a nationally representative March 2016 Consumer Reports National Research Center survey. The burden of paying off significant loans has left many questioning whether college was worth the cost after they left.

Forty-five percent of people who are no longer in college and have student loan debt said that college was not worth the cost. Of those who said college wasn’t worth the money:

  • 38% didn’t graduate
  • 69% have had trouble making loan payments
  • 78% earn less than $50,000 per year
  • 43% didn’t get help from parents when making financial aid decisions

CR’s survey demonstrated that once people leave college, student debt impacts them in a variety of ways. For example, 44% cut back on day-to-day living expenses, 37% delayed saving for retirement or other financial goals, 28% delayed buying a house, 12% delayed marriage, and 14% changed careers as a result of student debt.

The package includes a section called “Having the College Money Talk,” which suggests that parents and teens sit down together for a frank discussion about family finances and create an action plan so that everyone can weigh his or her options rationally when acceptance letters and student aid offers are on the table. It begins with 10 key questions. For the full report, visit: ConsumerReports.org/studentdebt. Here’s a look at some of the questions and tips:

  • What does your student want to get out of college? Only 39% of college students graduate in four years, often because they change majors or take classes that don’t count toward the degree they eventually choose. High school students can explore career options before they head off to college through volunteer work, gap years or job shadowing.
  • How much will college cost, bottom line? How much you pay depends on your family’s financial situation, the student’s academic record, and other factors. To evaluate a school’s true cost, you need to get down to the “net price.” And don’t assume that their state university will be the most affordable option. Some smaller private colleges can be cheaper than flagship state schools.
  • Should parents contribute, and if so, how much? Financial advisers say parents should prioritize saving for retirement over paying for their kids’ college. Experts CR consulted provide a specific rule of thumb on how much parents can borrow without affecting their own financial security.
  • What about community college? Starting off at a community college and then transferring to a four-year institution can be a good way to reduce costs. CR highlights the growing number of states and cities offering programs that make community college more affordable or even free.
  • Any other ways to cut costs? CR looks at other options for reducing costs, such as studying abroad and using ROTC scholarships for those interested in a military career.

About Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit, consumer organization working to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has achieved substantial gains for consumers on health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other issues. The organization has advanced important policies to cut hospital-acquired infections, prohibit predatory lending practices, and combat dangerous toxins in food. Consumer Reports tests and rates thousands of products and services in its 50-plus labs, state-of-the-art auto test center and consumer research center. Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, works for pro-consumer laws and regulations in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. With more than eight million subscribers to its flagship magazine, website, and other publications, Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, payment, or other support from the companies whose products it evaluates.

About Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting
Reveal is the groundbreaking multimedia platform for in-depth journalism and storytelling from The Center for Investigative Reporting, the nation’s first independent investigative reporting organization. With PRX, CIR co-produces the nationally distributed Reveal radio show and podcast, which features original reporting from Reveal's newsroom, as well as stories from public radio stations and a wide range of media partners, both nonprofit and commercial. Devoted to holding powerful interests accountable to the public trust, CIR creatively employs cutting-edge technology and innovative storytelling to reveal injustice, spark change at all levels of society and influence public dialogue on critical issues. CIR is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, winner of 2013 and 2015 Emmy Awards and a 2013 George Foster Peabody Award, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 (for local reporting) and 2013 (for public service). For more, visit revealnews.org.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Douglas Love

Hannah Young
Reveal
510.809.3160 351
Email >