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New Student Debt Maps Allow Closer Look Into Student Debt Crisis

New data demonstrates the disparate effects of student loan debt across the country.

CREDIT: Center for American Progress.

The Higher Ed, Not Debt campaign, a project of Generation Progress, hosted an event on student debt Tuesday, December 1, launching both a storybook highlighting how student debt affects borrowers in every state and a website, MappingStudentDebt.org, which allows users to see how student debt affects different regions across the United States.

Though the United States has over 40 million student loan borrowers and $1.1 trillion in student loan debt, federal data on the issue remains limited. The data released yesterday present the most detailed look into America’s student loan crisis yet.

“Our campaign was founded on the premise that high-quality higher education is a right and it is a public good that should be affordable and accessible to all, without the burden of financial hardship,” Maggie Thompson, the campaign manager of Higher Ed, Not Debt, said during welcoming remarks at the event.

“National leaders are talking about student debt across the country and on both sides of the aisle. We’ve made this an issue, so congratulations to our community for that. Since our founding, the number and the diversity of organizations that are working on and thinking about the issue of student debt has also grown. It’s not just something that education and youth organizations are thinking about anymore.

“Our campaign partners represent constituencies ranging from farmers to veterans to labor, entrepreneurs and non-traditional students – students that attend community college, students who are parents or students that returned to school to make a career.Real conversations about solutions to the student debt crisis are happening, not just about how we can help current borrowers but how our community is also working to figure out how we can address the roots of this crisis and stop it from accelerating for future students.”

The event and accompanying storybook and website stressed the importance of taking the issue of student debt to the state and local levels.

“We figured out pretty quickly that we can’t wait for Washington to address this crisis,” Thompson said. “We have to take this fight to states and cities. We have to mobilize local communities to work on this issue as well. So today, we’re launching an effort that will do just that. We want to bring this issue home to the local level.”

A research analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Kavya Vaghul,presented the website Mapping Student Debt, which showcases a series of student debt heat maps that illustrate the distribution of student debt and student debt delinquency at the zip code level across the United States, using summarized credit statistics.

Higher Ed, Not Debt and Generation Progress collaborated to release a storybook with student debt stories, one from each state.

“We chose these borrowers, not just because they have compelling stories of how student debt is affecting their lives, but they also demonstrate the diverse experiences of student loan borrowers in every state,” Thompson explained. “Too often when we’re talking about the student debt crisis, we focus only on the experience of younger, more traditional students, individuals who often have advanced degrees with high debt levels.

“When we think about the student debt crisis and policy solutions that can effectively address it, we also have to include the experience of non-traditional students, students that don’t graduate, senior borrowers and students that have been left in dire straits by their for-profit college.”

Rohit Chopra, currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and formerly the top student financial services regulator at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, moderated a panel of legal and education experts to discuss the issue of student debt. The panel included Subira Gordon, a legislative analyst at the Connecticut African-American Affairs Commission; Natalie Higgins, executive director at Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts; Rom Israel, executive director at Montgomery County Education Association; and Whitney Barkley of the Center for Responsible Lending.

Alexandra Kilpatrick is a reporter with Generation Progress.

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