Student Debt in the USA: How can philanthropy help?



New Reports from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and TIAA Institute Address Student Debt in the US and Philanthropy’s Role

Melissa Blackerby - Communications Assistant, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

In recent years, student debt has been a rising concern in the United States. With a growing national aggregate of student debt now standing at $1.3 trillion and several higher education institutions facing decreased public funding, the ‘student loan crisis’ has taken hold of the public’s attention. However, media coverage may not always present an accurate representation of the average student’s experience with loans. New research from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the TIAA Institute presents a new way to think about student debt and philanthropy’s role in postsecondary education funding.

The new series of reports produced by RPA and the TIAA Institute, “Achieving Success in Postsecondary Education” provide an analysis of the state of student debt and education funding to advance the conversation on supporting college completion and financial security for all students. In the report “Is there a Student Loan Crisis? The Facts about Student Debt,” Sandy Baum, Senior Fellow at the Urban Institute, challenges the common perception of the debt crisis by looking at the distribution of debt. While media coverage may lead one to believe that the average student borrower is drowning in insurmountable debt, the report suggests that that less than one-third of borrowers owe more than $25K. The borrowers who tend to struggle most with repaying loans are those who committed to relatively small loan amounts as well as students who are older, low-income, or people of color, while those with the highest amounts of debt – most of whom have graduate degrees - are also the most likely to repay their loans.

The reports also address the role of philanthropy in funding higher education. Amy Holmes, Senior Philanthropic Advisor and Manager at RPA, discusses innovative approaches in private funding for postsecondary education in the report “Analysis of Trends in Higher Education Philanthropy.” Through interviews with five private foundations, the analysis examines recent contributions by funders to higher education and identifies opportunities for further engagement.

Findings from these reports could increase accessibility and inclusion for students from all backgrounds, particularly those who may face a disadvantage while completing or paying for their degrees. Access to education is vital to the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Although it is the primary focus of Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning, universal education will help advance almost every single other goal by providing future generations with the skills and knowledge to address our world’s pressing challenges in health, environment, and human rights. By ensuring that students can complete their degrees without being left with unmanageable levels of debt, we are that much closer to achieving all 17 SDGs.
RPA and TIAA’s “Achieving Success in Postsecondary Education” reports are available for download now here.