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The Real Debt Crisis | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Real Debt Crisis

Editor's Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel's column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina's column here.

It’s college commencement season in America, a time of excitement and celebration. For the millions who will graduate this year, the events of this month and next represent not just the end of college but the beginning of a new and meaningful chapter in their lives.

That chapter, for most, however, will be accompanied by hefty student loan payments. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average debt for a bachelor’s degree recipient in 2011 will reach almost $23,000, making this year’s graduating class the most debt-burdened in history. In fact, student loan debt is expected to outpace credit card debt, likely reaching more than $1 trillion this year.

This is partly a function of tuition, which the Wall Street Journal reports has increased at a rate of 5 percent a year. It is also a function of a flailing economy in which parents are far less able to help their children pay for college. It’s no wonder that a staggering 85 percent of 2011 college graduates are moving back home after graduation.

Still, for many, if not most college students, the decision to take out loans to pay for a college degree will be one of the most important investments they will ever make in their future, and the cost of repayment, while historically high, will be worth it. Last month’s jobs report found that the unemployment rate among college graduates was 4.5 percent, half of the national unemployment rate. And according to a College Board report cited by the New York Times, the median bachelor’s degree recipient working full-time in 2008 made 65 percent more than the median high school graduate.

But there is a growing group of students who will find a harsh reality when they enter — or at least try to enter — the workforce. These are the students who have enrolled in the growing industry of for-profit colleges.

Read the full text of Katrina's column here.

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