Student Loan Debt Hell: 21 Statistics That Will Make You Think Twice About Going To College

ilene's picture

Courtesy of Michael Snyder at Economic Collapse

Is going to college a worthwhile investment?  Is the education that our young people are receiving at our colleges and universities really worth all of the time, money and effort that is required?  Decades ago, a college education was quite inexpensive and it was almost an automatic ticket to the middle class.  But today all of that has changed. 

At this point, college education is a big business.  There are currently more than 18 million students enrolled at the nearly 5,000 colleges and universities currently in operation throughout the United States.  There are quite a few "institutions of higher learning" that now charge $40,000 or even $50,000 a year for tuition.  That does not even count room and board and other living expenses.  Meanwhile, as you will see from the statistics posted below, the quality of education at our colleges and universities has deteriorated badly.  When graduation finally arrives, many of our college students have actually learned very little, they find themselves unable to get good jobs and yet they end up trapped in student loan debt hell for essentially the rest of their lives.

Across America today, "guidance counselors" are pushing millions of high school students to go to the very best colleges that they can get into, but they rarely warn them about how much it is going to cost or about the sad reality that they could end up being burdened by massive debt loads for decades to come.

Yes, college is a ton of fun and it is a really unique experience.  If you can get someone else to pay for it then you should definitely consider going.

There are also many careers which absolutely require a college degree.  Depending on your career goals, you may not have much of a choice of whether to go to college or not.

But that doesn't mean that you have to go to student loan debt hell.

You don't have to go to the most expensive school that you can get into.

You don't have to take out huge student loans.

There is no shame in picking a school based on affordability.

The truth is that pretty much wherever you go to school the quality of the education is going to be rather pathetic.  A highly trained cat could pass most college courses in the United States today.

Personally, I have had the chance to spend quite a number of years on college campuses.  I enjoyed my time and I have some pretty pieces of parchment to put up on the wall.  I have seen with my own eyes what goes on at our institutions of higher learning.  In a previous article, I described what life is like for most "average students" enrolled in our colleges and universities today....

The vast majority of college students in America spend two to four hours a day in the classroom and maybe an hour or two outside the classroom studying. The remainder of the time these "students" are out drinking beer, partying, chasing after sex partners, going to sporting events, playing video games, hanging out with friends, chatting on Facebook or getting into trouble. When they say that college is the most fun that most people will ever have in their lives they mean it. It is basically one huge party.

If you are a parent and you are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars every year to pay for college you need to know the truth.

You are being ripped off.

Sadly, a college education just is not that good of an investment anymore.  Tuition costs have absolutely skyrocketed even as the quality of education has plummeted.

A college education is not worth getting locked into crippling student loan payments for the next 30 years.

Even many university professors are now acknowledging that student loan debt has become a horrific societal problem. Just check out what one professor was quoted as saying in a recent article in The Huffington Post....

“Thirty years ago, college was a wise, modest investment,” says Fabio Rojas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University. He studies the politics of higher education. “Now, it’s a lifetime lock-in, an albatross you can’t escape.”

Anyone that is thinking of going to college needs to do a cost/benefit analysis.

Is it really going to be worth it?

For some people the answer will be "yes" and for some people the answer will be "no".

But sadly, hardly anyone that goes to college these days gets a "good" education.

To get an idea of just how "dumbed down" we have become as a nation, just check out this Harvard entrance exam from 1869.

I wouldn't have a prayer of passing that exam.

What about you?

We really do need to rethink our approach to higher education in this country.

Posted below are 21 statistics about college tuition, student loan debt and the quality of college education in the United States....

#1 Since 1978, the cost of college tuition in the United States has gone up by over 900 percent.

#2 In 2010, the average college graduate had accumulated approximately $25,000 in student loan debt by graduation day.

#3 Approximately two-thirds of all college students graduate with student loans.

#4 Americans have accumulated well over $900 billion in student loan debt. That figure is higher than the total amount of credit card debt in the United States.

#5 The typical U.S. college student spends less than 30 hours a week on academics.

#6 According to very extensive research detailed in a new book entitled "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses", 45 percent of U.S. college students exhibit "no significant gains in learning" after two years in college.

#7 Today, college students spend approximately 50% less time studying than U.S. college students did just a few decades ago.

#8 35% of U.S. college students spend 5 hours or less studying per week.

#9 50% of U.S. college students have never taken a class where they had to write more than 20 pages.

#10 32% of U.S. college students have never taken a class where they had to read more than 40 pages in a week.

#11 U.S. college students spend 24% of their time sleeping, 51% of their time socializing and 7% of their time studying.

#12 Federal statistics reveal that only 36 percent of the full-time students who began college in 2001 received a bachelor's degree within four years.

#13 Nearly half of all the graduate science students enrolled at colleges and universities in the United States are foreigners.

#14 According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for college graduates younger than 25 years old was 9.3 percent in 2010.

#15 One-third of all college graduates end up taking jobs that don't even require college degrees.

#16 In the United States today, over 18,000 parking lot attendants have college degrees.

#17 In the United States today, 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees.

#18 In the United States today, approximately 365,000 cashiers have college degrees.

#19 In the United States today, 24.5 percent of all retail salespersons have a college degree.

#20 Once they get out into the "real world", 70% of college graduates wish that they had spent more time preparing for the "real world" while they were still in school.

#21 Approximately 14 percent of all students that graduate with student loan debt end up defaulting within 3 years of making their first student loan payment.

There are millions of young college graduates running around out there that are wondering where all of the "good jobs" are.  All of their lives they were promised that if they worked really hard and got good grades that the system would reward them.

Sometimes when you do everything right you still can't get a job. A while back The Huffington Post featured the story of Kyle Daley - a highly qualified UCLA graduate who had been unemployed for 19 months at the time....

I spent my time at UCLA preparing for the outside world. I had internships in congressional offices, political action committees, non-profits and even as a personal intern to a successful venture capitalist. These weren't the run-of-the-mill office internships; I worked in marketing, press relations, research and analysis. Additionally, the mayor and city council of my hometown appointed me to serve on two citywide governing bodies, the planning commission and the open government commission. I used to think that given my experience, finding work after graduation would be easy.

At this point, however, looking for a job is my job. I recently counted the number of job applications I have sent out over the past year -- it amounts to several hundred. I have tried to find part-time work at local stores or restaurants, only to be turned away. Apparently, having a college degree implies that I might bail out quickly when a better opportunity comes along.

The sad truth is that a college degree is not an automatic ticket to the middle class any longer.

But for millions of young Americans a college degree is an automatic ticket to student loan debt hell.

Student loan debt is one of the most insidious forms of debt.  You can't get away from student loan debt no matter what you do.  Federal bankruptcy law makes it nearly impossible to discharge student loan debts, and many recent grads end up with loan payments that absolutely devastate them financially at a time when they are struggling to get on their feet and make something of themselves.

So are you still sure that you want to go to college?

Another open secret is that most of our colleges and universities are little more than indoctrination centers.  Most people would be absolutely shocked at how much unfiltered propaganda is being pounded into the heads of our young people.

At most colleges and universities, when it comes to the "big questions" there is a "right answer" and there is virtually no discussion of any other alternatives.

In most fields there is an "orthodoxy" that you had better adhere to if you want to get good grades.

Let's just say that "independent thought" and "critical thinking" are not really encouraged at most of our institutions of higher learning.

Am I bitter because I didn't do well?  No, I actually did extremely well in school.  I have seen the system from the inside.  I know how it works.

It is a giant fraud.

If you want to go to college because you want to have a good time or because it will help you get your career started then by all means go for it.

Just realize what you are signing up for.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Soul Train's picture

Brilliant post by ebworthern.

Here's something else to think about.

I went to my daughter's college graduation two years ago. I would say at least about 70 percent of the grads were female. And most of the ones getting the cum laude diplomas were female.

White males the minority.

This is fact, and true around the country.


GreenSideUp's picture

Don't you know?  White males = bad news.  Schools and schooling have done everything possible to destroy males and maleness.  Anything in the realm of what I'd consider normal male behavior, including curiosity, questioning, and physical activity, is labeled ADD/ADHD and drugged away so boys will sit still (i.e.: act like girls) and be good little conformists and soak up the drivel and brainwashing otherwise known as education.  Boys are given so much negative feedback, they think something is wrong with them. 

Is it any wonder these boys don't go on to higher "education"?

I took my son out of school.  The last straw was the school's request for testing for ADHD; they said he was a classic case.  


sun tzu's picture

It depends on the degree. Medical degree and engineering aren't things you can learn on the job. I do agree that many careers should not require a college degree. Maybe a simple test to make sure the applicant is intelligent enough to learn the job.

Dr. Impossible's picture

"Medical degree and engineering aren't things you can learn on the job."

Absolutely FALSE!.....i did both as a HS 19yrs old i was a pharmaceutical chemical compounder, responsible for not just mixing but maintenance and repairs(full tool & die shop), my department ran at 110% accuracy...not only did our job correctly ..every time..but went around fixing the others BS along the way..yes many time reworking the engineers designs as i was in a test 20yrs same company,(second in charge of a $100 million dollar facility with 2000 employees) i was also a "first responder" and "TQM trainer", OSHA, hazmat,DOT,blah blah blah..that list goes along way

all of it HAD TO BE on the job as time went, some of us compounders went to lecture at local "education camps"

most of the companies that did test batching would send their senior chemist in ...very few had an understanding of how to extrapolate a recipe from a 1 gallon bucket(lab size) a 5000 gallon tank(production ready)...

so i guess you can say "degree"....but degrees aren't employable....common sense, motivation, understanding the material before you, finding/creating profitability are employable.

ebworthen's picture

Ah..the intelligence fallacy.

Moraltiy and ethics would have helped the past two generations - and society - more than anything else - too bad those are in the dustbin with the Constitution and the Magna Carta.

Downtoolong's picture

People love to slam public education these days. No doubt, there is plenty of evidence of waste and inefficiency in these systems. But, for an average cost of around $10k per student year, public high school, which now includes many Advanced Placement college courses, starts to look like a relatively good deal.  Maybe we should expand public high school to include an optional fifth year for college bound students so they could take additional core college level courses. That could reduce the time it takes to complete their degree once they enter college to two or three years, easily reducing the cost of a bachelors degree by 25-50%.   

OldPhart's picture

Public education produces student who can't read, can't write, can't perform math (even with a damned calculator).  An extra year, from the current high school environment, will only provide more kids to college who have no idea how dumbed-down their curriculum was from kindergarten through 13th grade, and think they are ready to enter the adult world with full mental faculties.

I would much rather face the cold, harsh reality that we have people aged 10 to 30 who have the educational level of a moron...just as the government planned.  There is no hope or cure for these people. 

They are the new sheeple who will never realize that Dancing with Stars went off the air because the power plants all failed.  There is no arguing with them because they have been taught/conditioned to believe that they are the ultimate cream of the crop.  It's pathetic, but it's the absolute truth.

I'd much rather see a complete purge of the public educational system, including the curriculum and political propaganda.  First Grade, you learn ABC's, 123's, basic writing (printing), beginning math, local/state history, foreign language, counting money, beginning bookkeeping.  You don't get socially promoted, you sit there until you learn the shit.

Rinse and Repeat in significantly stronger programs through the years.

A high school graduate should understand the fundamentals of money (in whatever the current form it may take) and the alternative economics, have a clear understanding of the US Constitution and the limits of government, speak at least two languages, have a solid base in philosophy and critical thinking, read latin, greek, and chinese, be able to mentally compute sums, know the world geography and the associated political systems, and the full acknowledgement that they don't know what they don't know but have the skill-set and personal capability to look for, and find, answers to questions that are currently unknown, and have the internal sense of self worth to prevent their personal morals or physical bodies to be used as sexual fodder by the older generation.

ONLY then should they be considered high school graduates and awarded diplomas.  Otherwise, they're fodder--sexual or cannon.

sun tzu's picture

How about a year at a community college instead? Tuition is usually $1,500 per semester full-time($3,000/yr). Cheaper than your $10,000/yr 

RockyRacoon's picture

Trade schools!   See what a plumber, heat/air, painter, sheet metals, trim carpenter, brick/stone/tile setter, electrician, mechanic, or a welder is paid.  And I don't mean the union guys.   Local fellas who show up, do the job, get paid, and feed their families.   They do quite well and are the real backbone of the labor force.   I have had a real estate broker license since the mid 1970s and had an HVACR license for many years.   The building downturn has made a lot of the less skilled workers, or less savvy business oriented, hit the pavement; but the real pros always have work (or can go where the work is).  I've worked with a lot of these fine guys (and women) and they are our national treasures.

GreenSideUp's picture


I have never understood how or why vocational trades got to be looked down upon.  Like you, I know and work with a ton of tradesmen and they ARE national treasures. 

Dr. Impossible's picture

"but the real pros always have work (or can go where the work is)"

spot on.....i went looking for an offshore fishing job many moons back..

a vietnamese fishermen on the dock says to me..never ask a captain for a job.....tell them your looking for work!

after i learned the difference i found the income i needed quickly

its much people all seem to be looking for jobs, and passing by anything that looks like failure we have..and will continue

pan's picture

Great idea!  The college industrial complex will ensure that it never gets rolled out.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

It is possible to test out of a year of college, if you've been prepared well in high school.  How many people are aware of it?

technovelist's picture

I tested out of a year of college. Unfortunately(?) I spent that extra year fooling around and still took 4.5 years to graduate, but still...

NOTW777's picture

excellent piece. the indoctrination and brain washing are probably even more damaging than the debt.

pan's picture

Frat boy indentured servants, bitchez!

km4's picture

Animal House is one the the greatest movies ever made ;)

Downtoolong's picture

Agreed; if only college were really like that it would be worth $100k per year.


cocoablini's picture

Its a racket- a new bubble to take advantage of people out of work and down on their luck.

cocoablini's picture

Plus1. And Obama wants more pell grants which are openended loans.
And student loan debt you cannot default on- they will chase your ass into the sunset.
My brother and I were talking aout what a frikkin racket it is unless you are a CS major and can make 100 k out of the box a year.
Invest in you kid by opening a store with them, or having them work at home with you or a friend. I know 5 grads who can't get a job. Unemployment at that age runs 30+ percent.

SlorgGamma's picture

One of the saddest symptoms of the US decline is this constant bashing of the symptoms, instead of the causes.

Fact: our trillion-dollar military boondoggle plus trillion-dollar bailouts for bankster swine is what's killing our middle class.

Not teachers. Not students. Not universities.

Instead of spending on banksters and war, we should spend on education and universities. You know, the people who invented computers, biotech, the internet. $100 billion a year would pay for annual student tuition at our public universities.

ilene's picture

Good point. That the system is so messed up doesn't mean that higher education is not valuable, or that reconstructing our educational system wouldn't be worthwhile. A lot of money is being wasted on wars and the financial sector's reign of terror. If we're going to be printing up enormous amounts of money, I'd rather cut back on military spending, let the banks absorb their own losses (or fail), and invest in education. 

I will add - in case it comes up - I don't think the federal gov't should be directly involved with education.  I'd leave that to the states, but the federal gov't has crippled states' abilities to deal with their own budgets. 

sun tzu's picture

We spend more per student that any country in the world. The reason it is failing is due to the administrators, unions, parents and students. Why don't you tell us how much will be enough? Should we spend twice as much as England, Germany, and Canada? We spend twice as much as Japan and Finland, which rank number 1 & 2 in math, science, and reading. 

Education can be reformed without spending more money. We can stop the wars at the same time and clawback all of the bonuses from the bankers. They are not mutually exclusive acts.

snowball777's picture

Dig a little deeper...

Why are those parents doing such a poor job? Perhaps because both parents are working to make rent + "mass grave" daycare (or there's only one parent to begin with)? Is it because they need 3 part-time jobs in the new economy to earn what one of them could have a few decades ago?

What type of "reform" will make parents more responsible in the face of no time to educate their kids?

Fix the core problem of parents not being able to earn enough to survive (i.e. get them higher education, training, and an economy that actually has decent jobs available) and the other problems, while not likely to solve themselves, will at the very least become much more tractable. It's easier to "reach out" to parents when they can actually attend school meetings.


goodrich4bk's picture

The reason we spend more than eveybody else on higher education is that we send more of our children to college than everybody else.  In the U.K., about 6% go to the University, a larger percentage to polytechnics (trade school), the rest get by with their superior high school diploma.  Same numbers across Europe.


Jean Lazard de Rotschild's picture

BS, where you get that? I am from belgium and certainly more than 20% go to College

RockyRacoon's picture

Money does not buy an "education" any more than money buys morals, or pride, or esteem.  Money has been spent in untold billions and the resulting "educations" are inversely proportional to the expenditure.  QED

RichardENixon's picture

Another in a seemingly endless succession of credit-fueled bubbles, soon to burst with predictably devastating results.

RockyRacoon's picture

The housing bubble produced millions of match-stick houses and the education bubble has produced millions of uneducated citizens.  Both bubbles have debt attached to them not equal to the assets.

theopco's picture

I think it would have been more poetic to say the education bubble has produced millions of "match stick" citizens, but, yeah.

Zero Govt's picture

Everything Govt touches turns to Crap

State education... crap

theopco's picture

Everything Govt touches turns to Crap

State education... crap


- University of Pheonix grad, Zero Govt

sun tzu's picture

100% government backed student loans that are defaulting at insane rates

Would anyone register for those overpriced classes without the loans?

downwiththebanks's picture

Liquidate LIBRARIES!  Liquidate ENGINEERING!  Liquidate KNOWLEDGE!

sun tzu's picture

I didn't know engineering and knowledge come from the government. I guess people who don't work for the government have no knowledge and engineering abilities. As far as libraries, ever heard of the internet or Kindle? There's no need to lug around 50 books anymore

snowball777's picture

Engineering as an activity? No. As a standardized (and thus safe, scalable, and achievable) practice? Most definitely.

Do tell us how many civil and architectural engineering jobs you've seen posted that aren't looking for someone with a degree in those disciplines.

I work in videogames and there are an above average number of autodidacts and savants in my industry, so I get the idea that knowledge need not be passed down from on high, but to denigrate the value of education and pretend that everyone in the world has access to the internet or a kindle is simplistic. It was a childish overgeneralization as originally stated, but you're position is no less ridiculous.


Jab Cross Hook's picture

Art of War doesn't cover recharging lithium batteries.

snowball777's picture

Remember to keep yourself between your enemy and the charging station.

YC2's picture

what a fraud.  the govt guarantees debt, so they issue as much as the schools will charge, and the cost of tuition goes parabolic.  Bondholders get risk-free reward.

Students leaving high school sign promissory notes they dont ready and of which they have no idea of the repurcussions.  Thier parents and high school guidance counselors encourage them.

The best and brightest are indentured servants and locked into being "company men" and give up the little power labor has over capital.

So fucked.  Hold lenders responsible, hold the govt responsible, they are the sophisticated parties in this racket and the beneficiaries.  Students were encouraged to gamble on the status quo barely at the age of consent and now are faced with shit job options and are fucked.  Default should be an option.

YC2's picture

also, as a student finishing my mba, which i worked all the way through and had a near full tuition scholarship.  I will say I have learned nothing in 80%+ of my clasees.  I took mostly finance and stats, hoping to learn some computer skills, esoteric math, and not just fluffy mgt bs, even though I knew the othrodoxy was horseshit.  Its just good to know what everyone else is thinking, you know.  But I have learned as much in my personal reading list than I have from the 20% of classes that were taught by insightful, inspiring, experienced faculty.

Extending that logic, I should have rode out the recession after my trading firm went under with a crap job that would allow me to independent study.  I would have ended up with a better personal balance sheet and more skills, just without the paper that says MBA, which is not a requirement in any of the offers I have been getting, but a "plus".  A bigger plus has been the specific skills I have studied in my free time and independant studies outside of the classroom.  Going to a respectable but not elite school to get the scholarship (story of my lower middle class life) has made getting consideration for work I am overqualified for an uphill battle compared to my overpriveliedged peers I have met along the way that have connections or no financial considerations in choosing a school.  Not that things are great at any level but fuck...

For whatever that rant was worth...

Widowmaker's picture

Last time I checked, one didn't need to go to college to learn innovation.

Innovate.  Go long those that do.

duo's picture

Keep in mind, at one point in the last decade 4 of the 5 richest men in the US didn't have a degree:

Gates:  Dropped out, though had a silver spoon.

Dell:  Dropped out, UT

Ellison: Dropped out, I think

Buffett:  Silver Spoon, but did graduate from Nebraska

and one other guy that I forget now.  Anyway, entrepaneurship can't be taught in a classroom.


snowball777's picture

Hint: not many innovators on that list. The people who really made Bill rich did go to college..."Myhrvold attended Mirman School,[6] and began college at age 14."

Deep's picture

I just finished school not too long ago, and ya it's bullshit. Have learned more on my own than i did in school.  I got a business degree, have a mid-level job at a bank, shit pay, but at least i am working and young, am now upgrading my skills, enrolled in CFA.

Looking back, going to school is only good if you are gonna come out with a MD, Dentist, Nurse, ect, something where they cant pull the Managers brothers son for a job.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

Got to agree.

"am now upgrading my skills, enrolled in CFA."

There you go.  Get marketable skills outside of the university system.  Sometimes your employer will pay for it.

Hedgetard55's picture

College is now a racket designed to take your loan money from you and give you nothing but PC bullshit in return.

downwiththebanks's picture

No bullshit is stupider than that which is taught in Business Schools.  It's almost as though the intended product is Dumbness.