These are the fascinating (and scary) statistics of student loan debt in America

Student loan debt is exploding in the U.S. That’s at least how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo characterized it while recently unveiling a set of measures to alleviate the burdens of debt in New York.

These are the fascinating (and scary) statistics of student loan debt in America
Flickr user DonkeyHote, Creative Commons


Student loan debt is exploding in the U.S. That’s at least how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo characterized it while recently unveiling a set of measures to alleviate the burdens of debt for New Yorkers. Other states – Washington, California, Connecticut, Maine – have recently attempted or adopted similar legislation. And overall, the nationwide data suggest Cuomo’s description might not be hyperbolic.

In total, there are about 44 million Americans who owe $1.4 trillion in student debt, and more than a quarter of students who left college in 2010 and 2011 have defaulted on their loans – up from 19 percent in 2005 and 2006. 

How can data help us better understand student indebtedness, and the kinds of students most likely to default?

Source

The New York Fed’s Liberty Street Economics blog recently published an extensive analysis that outlines some of the determining factors behind student loan default. Using a data set that matched New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel (CCP), based on Equifax data, to National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) education data, researchers Wilbert van der Klaauw, Michelle Jiang, Nicole Gorton, and Rajashri Chakrabarti formed a representative sample of young Amercian adults that they used to track default rates and education attainment over time. Their sample is limited to students born between 1980 and 1986, and who took out loans to finance their education.

 

 

Some of their findings weren’t exactly surprising, such as that students were more likely than their peers to default if they:

  • Dropped out of school
  • Attended a non-selective college
  • Came from a disadvantaged background

Still, the exhaustive analysis provides an insight into subtler factors that contribute to student defaults.

The chart below shows that default rates were highest among students who attended for-profit schools. However, students who attended community college defaulted at similar rates.

The analysis also showed that students who graduated with a bachelor's degree had the lowest default rate.

For another analysis, the researchers separated the students in their sample by major into four broad groups: Arts/Humanities, Business, STEM, and Vocational, which included majors like aviation, cosmetology, and welding.

Students who majored in the arts showed significantly higher default rates, but researchers noted that:

"major matters much more among students at nonselective colleges: the gap in default rates between the best performing major and worst performing major is much smaller (3 percentage points by age thirty-three) among students at selective colleges than among students at nonselective colleges (8 percentage points by age thirty‑three)."

Finally, the researchers divided their sample into two groups based on the average income of the household in which they grew up, as determined by zip code. They found that students from less advantaged backgrounds showed higher default rates.

Ultimately, attending a four-year, for-profit college correlated most strongly with default, followed by dropping out of college. Summing up their analysis, the researchers wrote:

"This represents preliminary evidence that later life outcomes—for example, the ability to buy a home and maintain a strong credit score—may vary widely among student loan holders based on their educational choices and backgrounds."

Is paying for a college degree still worth it? It of course depends on which op-ed you want to read. But most of the data suggest that Americans with bachelor's degrees get hired more often than their peers.

Source.

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A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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