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Critique of Key Figure in Series on Student Loans

May 15, 2012

"Degrees of Debt," a series of articles in The New York Times this week, explores the impact of rising student debt with compelling stories of individual borrowers and their families. The series has generated considerable discussion among higher education leaders, many of whom don't dispute the central premise that some students are borrowing more than is appropriate. But some are objecting to a key statistic and the choice of examples in the series. The series opens with an example of a woman who borrowed $120,000 for an undergraduate degree, and goes on to say that "nearly everyone pursuing a bachelor’s degree is borrowing." Then it says that 94 percent of students borrow for an undergraduate education.

Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education, has written to the Times, pointing out that the 94 percent figure is incorrect, and questioning just how typical some of the borrowers in the series are. "While an alarmist tone and extreme examples might make for good stories, they don’t make for an accurate or meaningful portrayal of the experience of millions of students who borrow to finance their college education. To the contrary, the Times presents a seriously distorted and misleading picture," Broad writes. "The Times is wrong when it says that 94 percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree borrow to pay for higher education. In fact, about 60 percent of students borrow and their average indebtedness is about $25,000, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the Project on Student Debt and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. While the Times highlighted at length students graduating with six-figure debts, very few borrowers actually owe that much."

 

 

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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