Student Debt: Six Charts That Explain It All

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By Mary Ellen Flannery

Last year, seven out of ten college graduates left school owing an average of $29,400 each in student loans. The charts below clearly illustrate that student debt isn’t just a burden anymore – It’s become a barrier to the American Dream.

But you can do something about it. The Degrees Not Debt Week of Action is November 10th – 18th. Learn more about how you can get involved.

The Student Debt Crisis

Total U.S. student loan debt has quadrupled since 2005, surpassing what Americans owe on cars and credit cards. In 2013, the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau announced student debt had topped $1.2 trillion. Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Who Can Afford College Today?

Fueling the student debt monster are colossal increases in tuition, which have far outpaced price increases in consumer goods. Source: Education Center for National Statistics

Not Just a Young Person’s Problem

Student debt spans the generations, and being on a fixed income makes it particularly hard for retirees to repay their loans. This chart shows the percentage of defaulted federal student loans held by each age group in 2013. Source: U.S. General Accountability Office

One Solution: Make College More Affordable

NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign calls on lawmakers to expand federal student aid programs, including Pell Grants for low-income students. As tuition has increased, Pell Grants especially haven’t kept up.

The Story Behind the Story

It’s not a secret that tuition has skyrocketed in recent years, and it’s not a coincidence that states have drastically cut funding to higher education. Over time, the cost of higher education has shifted from states to families.

The Day the Debt is Paid!

NEA’s Degrees Not Debt campaign also aims to make educators more aware of the public service loan forgiveness program, which could completely erase student loan debt following 10 years of payments. (For more information, visit

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