Amidst Senate Inaction on Student Loan Rates, Paying Back Student Loans a Considerable Stress Point for Debtors

NEW YORK , N.Y. – July 11, 2013 – With Summer underway and back-to-school looming, student loan debt is a consequence that many students will face this school year. Despite a majority of Americans (55%, including 65% of Echo Boomers and 61% of Gen Xers) indicating that the government should regulate college programs to help make sure that graduates can get jobs and repay college loans, the U.S. Senate has yet to come to an agreement on student loans; as a result, new loan rates are on course to double for incoming students if no action is taken.

In a world where Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg cast a spotlight on making it big without a degree, is a college education really worth it? This is among the questions The Harris Poll set out to address in an online survey of 2,210 adults interviewed between June 12 and 17, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

Student loans delay dreams

Nearly four in ten Americans (37%) confirm either currently paying off student loan debt (16%) or that they have in the past (21%), with half (49%) of Echo Boomers either currently or previously affected.

Among current and past student debtors, nearly two-thirds (64%) have put off a spending and/or saving goal in order to put money toward their student loan debts. Some deferred goals include:

  • Saving toward retirement (35%);
  • A dream vacation (29%);
  • Buying or leasing a new car (29%);
  • Buying a home (24%);
  • Among parents of children under 18, putting money into a college fund for their children (22%); and
  • Seven percent (7%) have even delayed a cosmetic procedure.

The percentage of parents of minors who are delaying or have needed to delay putting money into their children’s college funds is especially worrisome. What’s striking, notes Harris Interactive VP and solutions consultant Dana Markow, is that the economic impact of the student loan crisis is not only following students themselves, but is being visited upon the next generation as well. More than two in ten parents who have had to pay off student debt have deferred saving for their own children’s college education, increasing the likelihood that this crisis will continue.

Totally stressed out

When comparing student loans to a number of common stress triggers, the majority of current and past debtors (59%) feel student loans are or were more stressful than at least one of the activities tested. These include:

  • Credit card debt (32%);
  • A trip to the dentist (25%);
  • Worrying about losing a source of income (24%);
  • Moving (24%);
  • Doing their taxes (23%); and
  • Public speaking (20%).

What’s your cut?

When asked what should be the maximum percentage of one’s income to go into repaying college loans, the average percentage reported is 16.9%, identical to 2011 findings.

  • Perhaps surprisingly, Echo Boomers – the generation living most firmly under the weight of the student loan crisis – show a higher average percentage of income cap (21.8%) than any of their older counterparts (16.6% Gen Xers, 13.7% Baby Boomers, 13.6% Matures).
  • Those with a high school education or less feel the cap on payments’ percentage of income should be higher, when compared to those with further levels of education (20.7% HS or less, 14.6% some college, 12.9% college grads, 14.0% post grads).
  • Men are comfortable with a higher percentage of income threshold than women (18.7% men, 15.2% women).

Mixed grades for colleges and universities

While majorities of Americans feel that both a college education and an advanced degree is worth the cost (65% and 61%, respectively), strong minorities agree that each does not help people get a job (40% college, 38% advanced).

There appears to be a sharp division in feelings toward higher education centers, particularly when profit comes into play. While roughly half of Americans report positive opinions of both public colleges/universities (52%) and their private, not-for-profit counterparts (47%), only a third display positive opinions of private, for profit colleges/universities (32%, down slightly from 35% in 2011).

What’s more, six in ten (60%) Americans specifically feel that for-profit colleges and/or universities don’t care how many of their students graduate, just how many enroll and pay tuition (up slightly from 57% in 2011); by means of comparison, 44% say the same about public and not-for-profit schools. This feeling toward for-profit institutions is especially strong among college graduates and advanced degree recipients, who have experienced a full dose of higher education firsthand (56% HS or less, 57% some college, 68% college grads, 71% post grads).

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TABLE 1a

HOW COLLEGE PROGRAMS DO IN EDUCATING STUDENTS

We would now like to ask your opinion about higher education in the United States. How do you think each of these types of college programs (2 year or 4 year) do in educating their students?

Base: U.S. adults

Excellent/ Pretty good (NET)

Excellent

Pretty good

Only fair/Poor (NET)

Only fair

Poor

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Vocational, Technical or Career related programs at 4 year colleges

67

21

46

14

10

3

20

Academic programs at 4 year colleges

66

20

46

20

15

5

14

Vocational, Technical or Career related programs at 2 year colleges

65

18

47

17

13

4

17

Academic programs at 2 year colleges

57

11

46

27

22

5

15

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 1b

HOW COLLEGE PROGRAMS DO IN EDUCATING STUDENTS

By Generation, Education & Gender

We would now like to ask your opinion about higher education in the United States. How do you think each of these types of college programs (2 year or 4 year) do in educating their students?

Summary of those saying Excellent or Pretty good

Base: U.S. adults

Total

Generation

Education

Gender

Echo Boomers (18-35)

Gen X (36-47)

Baby Boomers (48-66)

Matures (67+)

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad

Post grad

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Vocational, Technical or Career related programs at 4 year colleges

67

63

63

70

70

61

71

73

67

67

66

Academic programs at 4 year colleges

66

66

65

70

60

57

68

78

79

63

69

Vocational, Technical or Career related programs at 2 year colleges

65

58

63

72

71

59

71

70

72

65

66

Academic programs at 2 year colleges

57

52

55

62

59

49

65

60

67

54

61

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 2a

VIEWS OF HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS

Do you have a positive or a negative opinion of each of the following types of higher education institutions in the United States?

Base: U.S. adults

Positive (NET)

Very positive

Somewhat positive

Neither positive nor negative

Negative (NET)

Somewhat negative

Very negative

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Public colleges or universities

52

18

35

35

13

9

4

Private, not-for-profit colleges or universities

47

15

32

43

10

7

3

Private, for-profit colleges or universities

32

10

22

42

26

16

10

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 2b

VIEWS OF HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS

By Year, Generation and Education

Do you have a positive or a negative opinion of each of the following types of higher education institutions in the United States?

Summary of those saying very positive or somewhat positive

Base: U.S. adults

2013

2011

Generation

Education

Echo Boomers (18-35)

Gen X (36-47)

Baby Boomers (48-66)

Matures (67+)

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad

Post grad

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Public colleges or universities

52

52

50

52

53

54

43

53

56

78

Private, not-for-profit colleges or universities

47

48

44

45

45

60

39

46

51

75

Private, for-profit colleges or universities

32

35

28

35

31

38

28

32

35

38

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 3

MAXIMUM % OF INCOME TO PAY TOWARD STUDENT DEBT SHOULD BE’e2’80_

By Year, Generation, Education & Gender

Many college students take out loans to pay for their education, which they must repay after they graduate. After they graduate, what do you think should be the maximum percentage of one’s income should be that goes into repaying their college loans?

Base: U.S. adults

2013 Total

2011 Total

Generation

Education

Gender

Echo Boomers (18-35)

Gen X (36-47)

Baby Boomers (48-66)

Matures (67+)

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad

Post grad

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

5% or less

25

23

23

26

27

25

26

26

25

20

25

26

6%-10%

35

35

27

37

40

40

28

40

39

42

32

37

11%-15%

9

12

8

6

10

13

8

8

10

14

11

7

16%-20%

12

12

13

14

12

10

12

9

16

13

11

13

21%-30%

8

9

11

5

5

8

7

8

7

8

7

8

31%-50%

6

5

9

8

3

3

9

5

4

2

6

6

51% or more

5

4

10

4

2

2

9

3

 

1

8

3

MEAN

16.9

16.9

21.8

16.6

13.7

13.6

20.7

14.6

12.9

14.0

18.7

15.2

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding. indicates an incidence of <0.5%

 

TABLE 4a

AGREEMENT ON STATEMENTS ABOUT FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES AND OTHER EDUCATION ISSUES

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: U.S. adults

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

A college education is worth the cost.

65

28

36

28

19

9

8

An advanced degree (Master’s, Doctorate, etc.) is worth the cost.

61

22

39

28

19

9

11

For-profit colleges/universities do not care how many of their students graduate, only how many enroll and pay tuition.

60

28

32

26

18

8

14

The government should regulate college programs to help make sure that graduates can get jobs and repay college loans.

55

29

26

35

15

20

10

Public and not-for-profit colleges/universities do not care how many of their students graduate, only how many enroll and pay tuition.

44

16

28

42

28

14

15

A college education does not help people get a job.

40

14

27

54

30

24

5

An advanced degree (Master’s, Doctorate, etc.) does not help pe ple get a job.

38

14

24

53

32

20

9

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

 

TABLE 4b

AGREEMENT ON STATEMENTS ABOUT FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES AND OTHER EDUCATION ISSUES

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: U.S. adults

2013

2011

Generation

Education

Echo Boomers (18-35)

Gen X (36-47)

Baby Boomers (48-66)

Matures (67+)

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad

Post grad

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

A college education is worth the cost.

65

n/a

61

69

64

68

55

67

75

82

An advanced degree (Master’s, Doctorate, etc.) is worth the cost.

61

n/a

60

62

60

65

56

61

60

82

For-profit colleges/universities do not care how many of their students graduate, only how many enroll and pay tuition.

60

57

59

62

62

54

56

57

68

71

The government should regulate college programs to help make sure that graduates can get jobs and repay college loans.

55

51

65

61

50

37

57

58

53

39

Public and not-for-profit colleges/universities do not care how many of their students graduate, only how many enroll and pay tuition.

44

42

43

45

46

39

42

47

45

40

A college education does not help people get a job.

40

n/a

36

41

44

41

45

45

32

23

An advanced degree (Master’s, Doctorate, etc.) does not help people get a job.

38

n/a

34

40

43

36

40

37

41

30

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding. Note: n/a indicates not asked in that year

 

TABLE 5

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH STUDENT DEBT

Which of the following best describes you?

Base: U.S. adults

2013

Generation

Echo Boomers (18-35)

Gen X (36-47)

Baby Boomers (48-66)

Matures (67+)

%

%

%

%

%

Currently paying off student debt or have in the past

37

49

42

31

14

I am currently paying off student debt

16

30

18

7

 

I am not paying off student debt now, but I have in the past

21

19

24

24

14

I have never had to pay off student debt

63

51

58

69

86

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding. indicates <0.5%

 

TABLE 6

DELAYED SPENDING DUE TO STUDENT DEBT

Which of the following things, if any, have you had/did you ever have to delay or put off because of your student debt?

Base: Currently paying of student debt or have in the past

Total

%

Have delayed any (NET)

64

Saving towards my retirement

35

A dream vacation (e.g., tropical, European, etc.)

29

Buying or leasing a new car

29

Buying a home

24

A college fund for my child(ren)

^22

A cosmetic procedure (e.g., rhinoplasty, hair transplantation, breast augmentation, etc.)

7

Other

14

None of these

36

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding. ^Among parents of children under 18

 

TABLE 7

STUDENT LOANS ARE/WERE MORE STRESSFUL THAN’e2’80_

Please select as many of the following as you feel accurately complete the following statement: ‘Student loans are/were more stressful than’e2’80_’

Base: Currently paying of student debt or have in the past

Total

%

Student loans more stressful than at least one of these (NET)

59

Credit card debt

32

A trip to the dentist

25

Worrying about losing a source of income

24

Moving

24

Doing my taxes

23

Public speaking

20

Student loans are/were not stressful for me

29

None of these

12

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 12 and 17, 2013 among 2,210 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #43, July 11, 2013

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive

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