It is not surprising then that Beth Akers, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Matthew Chingos, a fellow at the Urban Institute, published a book recently called Game of Loans, that essentially argued that the federal student-loan program is basically sound and under control.
In my view, Akers and Chingos widely missed the mark regarding the student loan crisis. They did not misrepresent the data about this problem or say anything that is technically inaccurate. Rather, in my view, they seriously misinterpreted data that warn of a coming catastrophe.
I won't attempt to articulate all my criticisms of Game of Loans in this essay. Rather I will focus on one point that Akers and Chingos made in Chapter 5, where they admit that "education debt is having negative psychological impacts on borrowers" (p. 95).
Of course this is true. As Kathryn Hancock explained in a 2009 law review article, "Studies have consistently found that socioeconomic status and debt-to-income ratios are strongly associated with poor mental health." Student loans, in particular, Hancock wrote, "can be a chronic strain on an individual's financial and emotional well-being." Indeed, "[t]he mere thought of having thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of debt can severely impact those with already fragile mental health, especially if they will carry that debt for the rest of their lives" (Hancock, 2009, 160-161, internal quotation marks omitted).
But what solutions do Akers and Chingos offer for this problem? Solution number one, they say, is to dial down the rhetoric about the student loan crisis. We need "to change the tone of the public discourse on this issue," Akers and Chingos counsel. In their mind, the "hysterical treatment" of the student-loan problem has caused some borrowers to worry more about their student loans than they should.
And solution number two? Akers and Chingos suggest that the psychological costs of student indebtedness could be reduced by creative repayment plans, including income-driven repayment plans.
In essence, Akers and Chingos are aligned with the Obama administration when it comes to addressing the student-loan crisis. Let's pretend there is no crisis and shove more students into long-term repayment plans.
Thanks, Ms. Akers and Mr. Chingos. You've been a big help.
Beth Akers and Matthew Chingos. Game of Loans: The Rhetoric and Reality of Student Debt. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016).
Katheryn E. Hancock, "A Certainty of Hopelessness, Depression, and The Discharge of Student Loans Under the Bankruptcy Code," 33 Law & Psychology Review 151, 160-161 (2009) (internal citations and internal quotation marks omitted). psychology