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Brace Yourself: Latest Look At Student Debt

  • Written by Syndicated Publisher No Comments Comments
    March 23, 2016

    College Tuition and Fees constitute one of the biggest threats to our economic outlook. Here is a chart of data from the relevant Consumer Price Index sub-component reaching back to 1978, the earliest year Uncle Sam provides a breakout for College Tuition and Fees. As an interesting sidebar, we’ve thrown in the increase in the cost of purchasing a new car as well as the more substantial increase for the broader category of medical care, both of which pale in comparison.

    Inflation Markers

    During the decade of the 1990’s, when real out-of-pocket funding declined 25%, tuition and fees rose 92%, which sounds substantial … until you compare it to the 1272% across the complete data series. For early boomers (a decade before the timeframe in the chart above) paying for college was sort of like buying a car. But in recent decades, it has become more like buying house, for which the strategy of a minimum down payment is commonplace for first-time buyers.

    The annual stair-step rise in college costs seen above is probably the most dramatic visualization of inflation data we routinely produce. The only chart we have that rivals it is our quarterly snapshot, updated earlier this week, of federal loans to students from the Federal Reserve’s Z.1 Financial Accounts of the United States (formerly kown as the Flow of Funds accounts).

    Sadly, the chart above doesn’t illustrate all the student loans outstanding. We don’t have a data source for private loans for college expenses, but the New York Fed estimates total student loan debt to be in the neighborhood of $1.2 Trillion.

    The best source economic analysis of the imact of tuition debt for the larger economy is the New York Fed, whose economists keep a close watch on this topic. See this slide set (PDF format) posted earlier this year: Student Loan Borrowing and Repayment Trends, 2015.

    See another related piece: Student Loan Debt: A Closer Look.

    Images: Flickr (licence attribution)

    About The Author

    My original dshort.com website was launched in February 2005 using a domain name based on my real name, Doug Short. I’m a formerly retired first wave boomer with a Ph.D. in English from Duke. Now my website has been acquired byAdvisor Perspectives, where I have been appointed the Vice President of Research.

    My first career was a faculty position at North Carolina State University, where I achieved the rank of Full Professor in 1983. During the early ’80s I got hooked on academic uses of microcomputers for research and instruction. In 1983, I co-directed the Sixth International Conference on Computers and the Humanities. An IBM executive who attended the conference made me a job offer I couldn’t refuse.

    Thus began my new career as a Higher Education Consultant for IBM — an ambassador for Information Technology to major universities around the country. After 12 years with Big Blue, I grew tired of the constant travel and left for a series of IT management positions in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. I concluded my IT career managing the group responsible for email and research databases at GlaxoSmithKline until my retirement in 2006.

    Contrary to what many visitors assume based on my last name, I’m not a bearish short seller. It’s true that some of my content has been a bit pessimistic in recent years. But I believe this is a result of economic realities and not a personal bias. For the record, my efforts to educate others about bear markets date from November 2007, as this Motley Fool article attests.
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