‘The Parent Loan Trap’ and college debt

October 12, 2012

I just read an absorbing story in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the explosion of federal PLUS loans to parents. Headline: “The Parent Loan Trap.”

The piece, reported with ProPublica, makes the point that the rising debt load of students gets far more attention than the debt burden of parents. Especially notable is the question of whether these kind of loans should be included as a line item in aid packages from colleges.

That raises the question: Is it really financial aid to get a huge loan, available on too-easy terms, that you can’t repay?

According to the story, PLUS loan volume rose to $10.6 billion a year as of 2011, up from an inflation-adjusted $4.3 billion in 2000.

Among 25 schools that landed on a list of having the highest average parent PLUS loans were New York University ($27,305), Dartmouth College ($26,978) and, here in Washington, American University ($24,129). The share of undergraduates at those schools with parents who take out PLUS loans: 16 percent at NYU, 4 percent at Dartmouth and 9 percent at American.

As I embark on this beat, I am struck by the number of stories in the Chronicle and the online news site Inside Higher Ed that are must-reads.

The Chronicle had a piece (heads-up: it apparently is subscriber-screened) on the starting salaries of Tennessee university grads that grabbed my attention as I was reporting a similar issue last week in Virginia.

Inside Higher Ed alerted me to the story of an American University professor who raised a stir on campus after she brought her sick baby to class and breast-fed her.

Tip of my hat to both publications.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.
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