Every fall and spring, the Harvard Public Opinion Project (HPOP) releases America's largest poll of young people. The poll usually gets a great deal of national coverage. Unfortunately, much of this coverage only goes skin deep, highlighting the supposed apathy of young people in America and our cynicism about the future of politics. This project, a partnership between HPOP and the HPR, aims to provide some additional context and analysis. Indeed, on everything from Internet privacy to college tuition, millennials don't seem to fit any convenient political mold. They're deep thinking, conflicted, and crucial to America's future. Read our articles to find out more. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


HPRgument Posts | December 4, 2013 at 10:02 am

Millennials Blame Colleges and Government for Student Debt


It’s no surprise that student debt is a major issue for young people. On average, students are graduating with a $27,000 debt, and costs continue to increase while financial aid struggles to keep up, according to the most recent College Board report.

Almost All Young People Think Paying for College is a Problem

According to the Harvard Public Opinion Poll Project, the student debt issue has no boundaries:  57 percent of respondents, ages 18-29, view the view student debt as a major problem while 22 percent consider it a minor problem. Even a small majority of those without student debt viewed it as a major problem (51 percent). The issue cut across ethnicity, income, and political ideology. For instance, 66 percent of those that identify a liberal and 57 percent of those that identify as conservative viewed student debt as a major issue. Similarly, 51 percent of those whose annual incomes were less than $50,000 viewed student debt as a major issue while 64 percent whose annual incomes exceeded $85,000 viewed student debt as a major issue.

With only slight variations, student debt seems to be a cross-partisan issue and is viewed as a similar major problem among most people with differing demographic features.

There is even consistency among differing income brackets over how financial circumstances played a role in pursuing a college education. Seventy percent of those whose annual incomes were less than $50,000 said financial circumstances played an important role, similar to 66 percent of those whose annual incomes exceeded $85,000 that agreed on the importance of financial circumstances. The financial concerns involved in the pursuit of a college education coupled with financial worries cut across class lines.

Who’s at Fault for College Costs?

18- to 29- year olds spread the blame for college costs, although universities share the plurality of it: 42 percent blame colleges and universities, 30 percent blame the federal government, 8 percent blame state governments, and 11 percent placed the blame on students themselves.  The large majority of the blame placed on universities and the federal government as opposed to students themselves may be an indication that students expect reforms from both institutions of higher learning and the federal government.

According to the 2008 US budget, the federal government spends about $30 billion annually on subsidizing higher education: $17.4 billion of which consisted of student grants and $9.6 billion in student loans for the 2008 year. However, with a fragile economy striving to recover from the Great Recession, it may be difficult for the federal government to provide further subsidies unless there are cuts in other areas of discretionary spending. While many 18- to 29- year olds may be critical of student loans and may seek more gratuitous financial assistance from the federal government, such as grants, it may be that young adults believe the federal government should take some form of action to alleviate the student debt crisis.

Likewise, a large sum of 18- to 29- year olds place the blame of student debt on universities, with tuition prices increasing on an annual basis (although rates have slowed down). However, it is important to understand some of the reasons for which universities are increasing tuition costs. Universities are constantly seeking to improve themselves and often spend extravagantly on research and instruction, which drives tuition rates. As noted earlier, financial aid packages are struggling to keep up with these increasing tuition costs, and young adults are noticing.

Student debt is an important issue for many Americans, regardless of demographic features. Most students polled consider their financial circumstances as an important factor in assessing the viability of pursuing a college degree and look at the universities and federal government as the main agents in making it difficult to pursue higher education. Young people may be expecting political and institutional action to keep up with what is seen as an unsustainable increase in costs.

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