The Debt Dilemma
Debt Aversion as a Barrier to College Access

September 21, 2005
Pamela Burdman
When student loans are the only way to pay for college, who decides how much debt a degree is worth? Through interviews and a review of available research, this paper explores how debt aversion and conflicting views about the role of student loans affect young people, their families, and those who advise them.
“If indebted students are the visible face of the debt crisis, the invisible faces are those who may have been lost to higher education altogether, even if they could have succeeded academically. The outcry over rising student debt may have overshadowed an equally pressing problem affecting students who do not borrow. Though the cost of not going to college is high—Americans without college degrees earn on average a million dollars less in their lifetimes than those with degrees—that cost can be less apparent to a young adult than the prospect of crushing debt.”