TLS on the “Sad Tale” of Student Loan Debt

The Times Literary Supplement says Joel and Eric Best, the father-son team behind The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion-Dollar Problem, have “produced what is probably the best and clearest book on the United States’ complex student debt problem.” Student debt, which now exceeds $1 trillion and is predicted to reach $2 trillion by 2020, threatens to become the sequel to the mortgage meltdown, the authors argue in their new book. The review (only available to TLS subscribers), describes the Bests’ project to reveal the severity of America’s student debt crisis and explain how we arrived here:

Expanded student loan programmes boosted the demand for college, which made college more expensive, which in turn increased the need for student loans. Along the way, the federal government was classifying student loans as an asset on its books and so it received few serious warning signals that a major problem was building up. State governments saw that the loans were maintaining the demand for college and so they cut back on direct aid to the institutions, which further hurt affordability.

TLS isn’t sanguine about where we go from here, but concludes that The Student Loan Mess is a must-read for understanding the scope of the problem. Ultimately, the author writes, there “will be a very painful restructuring for what has traditionally been one of America’s strongest sectors – maybe its strongest – by global standards. If this does end up being a century of American decline, the student debt debacle will have played a modest but not minor role.”