The more pressing crisis facing higher education in America is not the $1.5 trillion in student debt but the dismal graduation rates, Arizona State University President Michael Crow told CNBC on Thursday.
"It's a completion crisis, not a debt crisis," Crow said in a "Squawk Box" interview.
"If you finish with a little debt, you're fine. You'll be able to manage your way through that in most cases," he said. "If you have debt and don't finish, you have a huge problem."
Crow said that more than half the students who have gone to college in the U.S. since 1980 never graduated.
"People don't finish because the system is so narrow. There's not enough tolerance for the complete variability in our society," he said, meaning life gets in the way and schools are not flexible enough.
Those degree completion rates were a bit higher when the time frame was compressed, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. Of the students who started four-year and two-year degrees in the fall of 2011, 56.9 percent finished in six years.