Showing posts with label Stephanie Kafka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stephanie Kafka. Show all posts

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Student Debt and Physical and Financial Well Being Among College Graduates--What Did the Gallup Poll Tell Us?

The media has commented widely on a recent poll conducted by Gallup and Purdue University that compared five elements of personal well-being between college graduates who did not take out student loans and those who did.  Not surprising, people who did not take out student loans to attend college are more likely to be thriving than people who borrowed.

The poll measured the percentage of people who considered themselves to be "thriving," "struggling" or "suffering" in five areas:

1) social ("having supportive relationships and love in your life")

2) sense of purpose ("liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals")

3) financial ("managing your economic life")

4) community ("liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride")

5) physical ("having good health and and enough energy to get things done daily")

The study found little difference between people regarding social well-being among people who took out student loans and those who didn't; but in two areas--financial well-being and physical well-being--there were stark differences.

Among people who graduated between 2000 and 2014 and took out no student loans, 38 percent reported to be thriving financially, compared to only 22 percent of the people who borrowed $50,000 or more. That's a a gap of 16 percentage points.

I'm broke, and I don't feel so good.
Among the same comparison group, 33 percent of the people who didn't borrow money to attend college reported that they were thriving in terms of their physical health and energy, while among the group who borrowed $50,000 or more, only 22 percent reported to be thriving. That's a gap of 11 percentage points.

The poll also studied people who graduated from college between 1990 and 1999.The discrepancy in well being was not as stark among people who graduated during the 1990s, but there were still significant differences.

A couple of points: First, this study only reported on people who graduated from college, not people who borrowed money to attend college but who didn't graduate.  How many people do you think are thriving who borrowed $50,000 to attend college but didn't get a degree?

I think the nation would be shocked to know how people are doing who borrowed money to attend for-profit colleges and didn't get degrees. A high percentage of these poor souls are from low-income families or are minorities.  How many are thriving now, do you think, in their physical and financial lives?

Second, as several commentators have pointed out, the Gallup study doesn't establish a relationship between student loans and diminished health and financial stability. It seems likely that people who borrowed a lot of money to attend college came from poorer homes and faced multiple challenges to getting ahead that students from wealthy families simply do not face. 

 Nevertheless, the recent Gallup polls adds to a growing body of research showing that people who borrow money to attend college suffer multiple handicaps.  They are less likely to be able to buy homes, start families, and save for their retirement, for example. And the Gallup study didn't tell us anything we didn't already know when it reported that people who borrowed a lot of money to attend college are not doing as well financially as the people who finished college with no debt.

But the Gallup finding that college graduates who borrowed $50,000 or more to attend college are less less likely to be thriving with regard to their physical health should give us pause.

But again, the really shocking story, I believe, is unfolding among the millions of young people--a high percentage of them being minority students from poor families--who loaded up on debt to attend for-profit colleges and didn't even get a degree or a credential.  If Americans knew that story, I think they would put great pressure on Congress to shut down the seedy for-profit college industry.

But maybe not. Perhaps as a people, Americans are indifferent to the scandal of the for-profit college industry--this seedy neighborhood of the higher education community that sucks up 25 percent of federal student aid money while destroying the lives of millions of young people.


Andrew Dugan and Stephanie Kafka. Student Debt Linked to Worse Health and Less Wealth. Gallup Well-Being, August 7, 2014.  Accessible at

Kelly Field. Is Student Debt Harmful to Your Health? A New Study Raises the Possibility. Chronicle of Higher Education, August 7, 2014.