As you listen to politicians discuss the issue, keep in mind that “student loan” is an overly broad term, suggesting a homogeneity that simply doesn’t exist. There are massive differences between traditional public colleges vs. for-profit schools, graduate degrees in medicine vs. fine arts and students who complete school vs. those who don’t.
Here are some actual figures, however, offered with as little commentary as possible.
Forty-four million Americans owe a total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, or an average of $34,000 per borrower. (Both the average wedding and a used, 2017 Ford F-250 pickup truck cost about $25,000.)
Approximately 40 percent of all student loan debt is used to finance graduate and professional degrees. Among graduate degrees, the average loan balance for a physician borrower is $162,000. Borrowers with Master of Arts degrees owe an average of $58,000.
Only 6% of the 44 million borrowers owe 27% of the total $1.5 trillion. Those 2.5 million student loan borrowers (mostly physicians) have an average loan balance of $160,000.
The largest pool of borrowers falls within a debt range between $10,000 and $25,000.
Among borrowers who owe less than $5,000, 30% default within four years, compared to 15% for borrowers who owe more than $35,000.
The average student loan for borrowers who live in Tennessee is $25,250, regardless of the school they attended. The average loan balance for UT-Knoxville borrowers is $21,900, compared to $18,000 at LMU. The average student loan debt for public college students is $25,500. The average student loan debt at for-profit colleges is $40,000.
About two-thirds (63%) of defaults on federal student loans are from college dropouts, not college graduates.
The default rate for loans made to attend public 4-year colleges is 7.1%, compared to 15.6% at for-profit colleges. The default rate for University of Tennessee-Knoxville students is 4.7 percent. Among local for-profit schools, the default rate for South College students is 16.6 percent and 14.5% for the Paul Mitchell School (cosmetology and barber instruction.)
The largest beneficiaries of student loans are for-profit schools.
The school representing the largest aggregate amount of debt outstanding is the Phoenix campus of the University of Phoenix, a for-profit institution owned by a private equity firm. (I guess I hoped the largest debt was owed by students from Harvard, or even Auburn, not some for-profit, mostly online school.) In 2014, 8 of the 10 institutions producing the largest amount of student loan debt were for-profit schools.
The median monthly student loan payment is $222. A monthly membership to Sun Tan City closest to the UT campus is $130. A membership to Real Hot Yoga is $99 per month.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.