Rep. Alma Adams, DN.C., says many Americans with heavy student loan debt don’t even get their money’s worth.
His comments come as Biden administration considering action to alleviate some of the student debt.
“Almost 40% of borrowers with debt have not completed their education. Now they are faced with the worst of both worlds: all debt and no degrees,” Adams said. tweeted February 9.
Is it true that almost 40% of borrowers have not completed their degree?
Adams’ tweet caught our attention as he did not cite a source for his claim. When we contacted Adams’s office, a spokesperson said Adams got the stats from Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Warren tweeted a similar claim Jan. 27, stating: “Up to 4 in 10 people with student loan debt couldn’t graduate, many because of the high costs, so now they’re in the worst of both worlds – crushed by the debt, without a degree to increase their income. “
After speaking with Warren’s office and researching the origins of this claim, it looks like the statistic shared by Warren and Adams is on the right track. However, it is based on a limited data set with a short follow-up period.
Warren’s office said its source was data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics and analyzed by Marc Huelsman, former deputy director of policy and research for Demos, a progressive think tank.
Huelsman now works as a fellow of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University. He is also a member of the Protection center for student borrowers, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Huelsman told PolitiFact that he looked at students who entered university in the 2011-12 school year who had incurred debts from public or private lenders. Then he looked at whether these students had graduated by 2017.
“I looked at the accumulated debt. If you were in debt at some point while going to college, did you graduate? ” he said.
The figure that emerges from his research: 38.6% of people who took out student loans during that six-year period did not complete their college education during that period.
PolitiFact has contacted other experts about Huelsman’s findings.
Adam Looney, economics expert and senior researcher at Brooking Institute, and Judith Scott-Clayton, professor of economics and education at Columbia university, said they analyzed the same NCES data and got virtually the same result.
Lack of data
Of course, Huelsman’s analysis is just a snapshot of a specific time period. Experts at NCES and the Urban Institute, a non-partisan think tank, examines graduation rates in six-year windows, as this period may account for part-time students and other variables, as explained in a recent institute report.
However, some people go back to school outside of the six-year period and eventually graduate, ”said Jill Barshay, writer and editor of The Hechinger report, a nonprofit newsroom that covers education.
“The problem with the six-year timeframe is that a lot of people take more than 6 years to graduate,” Barshay said in an email. “I don’t know what percentage of them end up doing it. Some colleges like to use an 8-year period to measure the number of students who complete their 4-year degrees.”
We asked Looney and Scott-Clayton if they were aware of any other major studies on the issue. They said it was difficult to get information about paying off individual debt and completing long-term college studies.
“This survey every 8 years is the best readily available,” Looney said.
In an email, Scott-Clayton said:
“Unfortunately, the number of datasets that link loan information to graduation information is scarce. That’s why we have to rely on those NCES surveys that follow people over time and gather a lot of rich information, but only done every once in a while. “
Huelsman pointed out that his 38.6% figure for student loan borrowers matches overall trends in college graduation. the NCES reported last year that the overall six-year graduation rate for most full-time undergraduates was 62% in 2018, which means almost 40% did not graduate.
In the debate over whether lawmakers should write off student loan debt, Looney says it’s important to note that nearly 40% of non-graduates do not own 40% of the debt.
“While 39% of borrowers did not graduate, they only represent 23% of the debt borrowed,” Looney said. Bachelors with a bachelor’s degree make up 41% of all borrowers, but hold 64% of the debt, Looney said.
Adams tweeted “nearly 40% of borrowers with student loan debt have not completed their degree.”
Three different analyzes of data from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 38% to 39% of people who took out college loans between 2012 and 2017 did not complete college during that period.
While there is a lack of data on this specific question, experts say this analysis is the most reliable to date. We rate this statement to be quite true.