On Sunday, Robert F. Smith, founder of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, announced during a commencement address at Morehouse College that he would make an estimated $40 million donation to clear the student debt balances of graduates from the class of 2019.
The announcement renewed the ongoing conversation around the ways that mounting student debt will impact college graduates in the U.S.
According to the Federal Reserve, over half of young adults who went to college in 2018 took on debt. About 69% of students from the Class of 2018 took out student loans, graduating with an average debt balance of $29,800, according to Student Loan Hero.
According to the College Board, the average cumulative student debt balance in 2017 was $26,900 for graduates of public four-year schools and $32,600 for graduates of private nonprofit four-year schools.
Of those who are currently making payments, the average monthly payment is between $200 and $300, but roughly three out of 10 student loan borrowers are not required to make payments on their loans, often because of deferment. In 2017, 20% of those with student loans were behind on their payments, according to the Federal Reserve up from 18% in 2015 and 19% in 2016.
Delinquency rates decrease with each level of educational attainment: More than 30% of student loan borrowers with less than an associate's degree are behind on their payments, 25% of those with an associate's degree are behind, 11% of those with a bachelor's degree are behind and 5% of those with a graduate degree are behind.
Student debt has the greatest impact on Millennials, in part because they are the most educated generation in U.S. history. According to The Wall Street Journal, approximately 40% of those between the ages 25 and 37 hold at least a bachelor's degree, compared to 25% of baby boomers and 30% of Gen Xers at the same age.
In 2017, the average student loan balance for Millennials was $10,600, more than twice the average owed by Gen X in 2004.
As a result, this generation of student debt borrowers are struggling to make ends meet. According to Pew Research Center, 21% of employed adults between the ages of 25 and 39 with at least a bachelor's degree and outstanding student loans work more than one job, and just 27% of young college graduates with student loans say they are living comfortably, compared to 45% of college graduates of a similar age without outstanding loans.
Today, only 51% of Millennial college graduates with student loans say that the lifetime financial benefits of their degree outweigh the costs.
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