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Abstract

This paper summarizes recent research into the cost of higher education, and specifically the effects of growing student debt loads. It explores the utility of debt related to access to degree programs, entry into the job market, and economic impact in later life. It is not an economic analysis of higher education financing, but a consideration of the costs and benefits of education financing today. The central ethical consideration of “who benefits” applied to the current state of play in higher education financing leads to the questions: With constantly rising debt loads for individual students and the general population, is higher education still worth it? What are some of the issues that school debt creates and what impact do they have on diverse student and graduate populations? Finally, what are some potential areas for further research that can positively affect the cost vs. benefit of higher education for students and the state, while respecting prevailing social, economic, and political realities? The research shows while going into debt for a college degree is still “worth it” for the average student, as debt rises the payback of obtaining a degree is delayed. Debt loads have a negative disparate effect on vulnerable populations and a negative impact to the states as debt load drives some students away from careers that could benefit populations. Finally, there is a need for improved financial literacy and an opportunity to research and implement less costly financing options for students pursuing higher education.

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