Despite low public tuition, California ranks in top third among states for average student debt

California may have low public college tuition costs when compared to other colleges and universities nationally, but it is not enough to prevent students from taking high amounts of student loans.

A new study released exclusively to EdSource from The Century Foundation found Californians have higher average student debt balances, risky graduate school debt, a unique reliance on parent-held debt and significantly high student debt among Black families.

California’s high cost of living makes debt inevitable for many students, but the risk greater for students from lower-income families and communities of color eager to use education as a ladder into the middle class. Open-ended loans aimed at parents and graduate students are particularly burdensome, including those used to attend for-profit colleges.

Despite having a smaller share of student loan borrowers when compared with other states, California’s borrowers are in the top third among states, with an average of $37,400 owed, according to national data from June 2022. That figure includes all borrowers, regardless of whether they attended college in California. The state ranks 16th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for borrowers with high balances. This is despite having the fourth-lowest rate of student borrowers.

“One of California’s great successes is in college affordability and the fact that so many students go through college without debt,” said Peter Granville, a fellow at the foundation studying federal and state policy efforts to improve college affordability and author of the study. “Unfortunately, the Californians who do borrow take out some of the most risky debt around.” The foundation is a progressive, independent think tank that researches and promotes policy change to foster equity.

Besides the impact on individuals, student loan debt has become a larger problem for the American economy. Nationally, the current student loan debt totals $1.77 trillion.

“Student debt is something that is different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago,” U.S. Undersecretary of Education James Kvaal told higher education reporters earlier this month at UC Riverside. “People are borrowing more. They’re struggling more with those loans. It’s not just a problem for the 43 million Americans with student loan debt when they cannot afford to buy a house, start a new business or save for their own children or their retirement. It’s a problem for their families. It’s a problem for their communities. It’s a problem for our economy. It’s a fundamental crisis that we have to address in our country. We have to change how we’re financing higher education.”

Loan repayments restarting in October

With the Supreme Court rejecting President Joe Biden’s attempt to forgive $20,000 in loans for millions of borrowers, many are preparing to restart repayments in October. The situation underscores a larger student loan crisis in California and across the country. Millions of people, including those who never graduated from college and parents, are carrying student loan debt that they cannot afford and realistically may not ever pay back. 

“Californians really struggle with repayment,” Granville said. “The state economy demands a college education, and I believe that demand drives up borrowing.” 

And the situation is worse for graduates and families that borrow from the federal Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS loan programs that allow parents to borrow on behalf of their college students and graduate students to afford higher degrees, Granville said, adding that both programs offer high-interest, uncapped loans. 

“These loans are probably the worst things to dangle in front of families with real genuine fears of being left behind economically,” he said. “But that leads to high balances that are difficult to manage.” 

Graduate loan debt is larger in California than in the rest of the country, the study found. The state’s average annual Grad Plus loan is 25% higher than the rest of the country. In-state graduate students borrow on average $28,300 in loans each year compared with $22,400 nationally.

California places a premium on higher education in the state, Granville said. The average California worker with a graduate degree earns $108,500 – a 50% increase above the average income for bachelor’s degree holders. 

The state also sees a disproportionate share of Black students borrowing student loans. In the 2015-16 academic year, 28% of Black in-state undergraduates borrowed loans compared with 21% of all undergraduates. At the graduate level, 81% of Black Californians took out student loans compared to 51% of all other graduate students. 

“High borrowing among Black students in California locks in inequality that can last long into repayment,” Granville said. “Despite having a college degree and living in a higher income state, Black borrowers in California actually show worse financial security.” 

Black women undergraduates borrow at the highest rates in any one year, with 31% taking loans in 2015-16 compared with 21% of all undergraduates, according to the study.

Granville said the data reflects the racial wealth gap. 

“Black families have fewer financial resources than white families,” he said. “That leads to it being a lot harder to ask a Black family to self-finance education without debt. Homeownership also matters. You can take out a home equity loan for a much lower rate than a Parent Plus loan, for example.” 

Latinos follow Black borrowers but with not as high graduate loan debt at 62%. But Latino families also have concerning trends. The majority of Latino borrowers in California don’t have a college degree, while only one-quarter of white borrowers don’t. The report explains that this could be due to a greater share of Latinos leaving college before they earn a degree or higher shares of parents borrowing on behalf of their children. 

Granville said the state should examine whether all California families are “being potentially set up to fail.” 

“Lawmakers should be looking at the colleges within California and asking, are colleges passing on high costs to students knowing that they can take out this uncapped loan debt?” he said. “I worry about how some loans are being sold to students by their colleges. Unless families are getting wise counsel, they may be unknowingly signing up for a pretty tough repayment experience.” 

The racial wealth gap, along with California’s cost of living, makes it particularly challenging for Californians to pay their student debt, Granville said. 

Repaying more than $200,000

In many ways, Richelle Brooks is a college success story. She’s also an outlier in the student debt crisis.

student debt story

Credit: Courtesy of Richelle Brooks

Richelle Brooks

A first-generation college student, Brooks earned an associate degree from El Camino College, then went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Cal State Dominguez Hills. She graduated with her doctorate in 2018 from Cal State Los Angeles. 

Now, as a Los Angeles-area high school principal, she mentors and educates low-income students and students of color. She’s also facing more than $237,000 of student loan debt. The mom of three can’t fathom repaying it all, even with her $120,000 annual salary. 

Enrolling in community colleges even after graduating with her doctorate, as well as the three-year pandemic pause, allowed her to put off making payments. But that could be coming to an end.

Brooks, who advocates for student loan forgiveness, participates in one of the federal government’s income-driven repayment plans, which slowly escalates her monthly payments based on her income as a high school principal. Her first payment, which restarts in October, is for $700. But by June 2024 it will increase to $2,600 a month.

“I ran the numbers,” Brooks, 36, said. “It’ll be cheaper to stay in school the rest of my life than to pay that $200,000.” (Federal loan repayments pause while a person is enrolled in school.) 

About $33,000 of Brooks’ debt is just from interest that accumulated over the years. But because of the interest, Brooks said that her ability to pay off the debt “doesn’t exist.” 

“On paper, it sounds like I make a lot of money,” she said. “But they’re not taking into consideration that I live in LA and I have three kids.”

Brook’s partner is a military veteran and teacher. He doesn’t have student loans because of his military service, but the couple found they’re unable to purchase a home for their family because of Brook’s debt-to-income ratio, a situation that affects many student borrowers. Brooks also supports her mother, who lives with the family after facing homelessness. 

California’s high cost of living makes it difficult for young people coming out of college without significant family resources to accumulate assets like a home, especially if they have student loan debt. In California, 78% of Black households with student debt and 74% of Latino households with student debt have less than $50,000 in savings and investments, compared with 57% of white households with student loans, according to The Century Foundation.

In addition to her work as a principal, Brooks said she’s taken on other jobs to make ends meet, including driving Uber, and that’s before the loan repayments begin.

“Whatever it takes to make sure my kids have what they need and the bills are paid,” she said.

Brooks’ two oldest children are in high school and affording college is a common discussion in their home. 

“I do not foresee a way for me to pay off my debt and figure out a way to pay my kids’ college, and I do not want them to go into debt,” she said. “I talked to my daughter about joining the military, but it’s kind of terrifying too because she’s a little Black girl. … So I’m trying to figure it out.”

As an educator, Brooks could apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which she is considering once again. The program typically forgives the debt of people who work for a government or nonprofit employer, such as teachers, first responders and nurses. But forgiveness isn’t granted until after the borrower makes 120 or 10 years of payments. 

Restarting repayments

Although Brooks’ debt amounts are larger than the average of most borrowers, her struggle to repay her college loans is common. 

“In the popular imagination, there is this idea that student debt is a young people issue,” said Thomas Gokey, an organizer and co-founder of The Debt Collective, a union of advocates for publicly funded college, universal health care and guaranteed housing. “The truth is that the debt just doesn’t go away.” 

People age, have children, grandchildren, and careers decades removed from graduation, and the “debt is still there,” Gokey said, adding that for many people, the monthly payments don’t cover the interest. 

Some people have fully paid back their principle multiple times over, with the outstanding balance higher than the original balance. Other people may fall on hard times and can’t make payments, which leads to massive penalties, he said, referring to one case where a borrower defaulted on her student loan during the 2008 financial crisis and saw a $10,000 penalty added to her balance.

For undergraduates, even when their financial aid forms say they have $0 in expected family contributions, the cost of college attendance and tuition has increased to the point where aid doesn’t cover everything, he said. “The only option is Parent Plus loans to fill the gap. It’s just astonishing that a lot of parents will be paying off the loans for a longer period of time than they lived with or raised the children that they got the loan for.” 

Granville said many, trying to get ahead, take on more loans after undergraduate loans.

“Students often turn to graduate education when they’re struggling with their undergraduate loans,” he said. “They may see the next degree as the thing that will give them the earning power to handle the debt that they have struggled with already.” 

There is a misperception that a graduate degree means a person will be “really successful” and “make a lot of money,” Gokey said. “And that’s just not true if you’re a social worker,” he added, as an example of a lower salary job.

According to The Century Foundation’s data, a social worker with a bachelor’s degree earns on average $34,183 one year after completing their program, but has an average $15,599 in student loans. A social worker with a master’s degree earns an average of $54,223 one year after completing their program, but has on average nearly $80,000 in student loans. Licensed clinical social workers in California are required by the state to have a master’s degree in social work. 

Gokey said that there’s no way to “financial literacy yourself” out of student loan debt. 

Options and fixes 

Although interest rates restarted in September and repayments resume in October, the federal government is giving borrowers a one-year grace period as it attempts to fix the loan system and offer solutions that significantly lower monthly payments. 

“We really inherited a student loan system that was broken,” Kvaal said. “Before the student loan pause, we had a million students a year defaulting on their student loans.” 

Kvaal said those defaults weren’t from people running from their responsibilities, but borrowers struggling with payments. Many of them were first-generation or students of color, he said. 

Institution name Type Stafford (undergraduate) Parent PLUS Grad PLUS
Academy of Art University For-profit 37% 30% 42%
Advanced Career Institute For-profit 31%
Allan Hancock College Public 42%
Alliant International University-San Diego For-profit
American Academy of Dramatic Arts-Los Angeles Non-profit 37%
American Career College-Los Angeles For-profit 34% 21%
American Career College-Ontario For-profit 37% 32%
American College of Healthcare and Technology For-profit 51%
American River College Public 44%
Angeles Institute For-profit 32%
Antelope Valley College Public 43%
Antioch University-Los Angeles Non-profit 36%
Art Center College of Design Non-profit 29%
Asher College For-profit 31%
Ashford University For-profit 46% 37% 44%
Associated Technical College-Los Angeles For-profit 49%
Associated Technical College-San Diego For-profit
Avalon School of Cosmetology-Alameda For-profit 41%
Aveda Institute-Los Angeles For-profit 37%
Azusa Pacific University Non-profit 25% 16% 42%
Bakersfield College Public 43%
Bard College – MAT Program CA Non-profit 24% 17%
Bellus Academy-Chula Vista For-profit 36%
Bellus Academy-El Cajon For-profit 31%
Bellus Academy-Poway For-profit 29%
Berkeley City College Public 37%
Bethel Seminary-San Diego Non-profit 18% 22% 36%
Biola University Non-profit 20% 22% 32%
Blake Austin College For-profit 27%
Brandman University Non-profit 31% 39%
Brownson Technical School For-profit 17%
Butte College Public 42%
Cabrillo College Public 42%
California Aeronautical University For-profit 36%
California Baptist University Non-profit 31% 30% 43%
California Career Institute For-profit 32%
California College of the Arts Non-profit 26% 32% 47%
California College San Diego Non-profit 44%
California Hair Design Academy For-profit 26%
California Healing Arts College For-profit 37%
California Institute of Integral Studies Non-profit
California Institute of the Arts Non-profit 37%
California Lutheran University Non-profit 22% 26%
California Nurses Educational Institute For-profit 32%
California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo Public 12% 14% 24%
California State Polytechnic University-Pomona Public 21% 22% 38%
California State University Maritime Academy Public 17%
California State University-Bakersfield Public 29%
California State University-Channel Islands Public 22% 17%
California State University-Chico Public 23% 22%
California State University-Dominguez Hills Public 27% 32%
California State University-East Bay Public 25% 22% 35%
California State University-Fresno Public 24% 34%
California State University-Fullerton Public 20% 27% 29%
California State University-Long Beach Public 20% 22% 37%
California State University-Los Angeles Public 23% 37%
California State University-Monterey Bay Public 24% 17% 37%
California State University-Northridge Public 22% 17% 37%
California State University-Sacramento Public 24% 20% 36%
California State University-San Bernardino Public 27% 22% 40%
California State University-San Marcos Public 23%
California State University-Stanislaus Public 23% 17% 36%
California Western School of Law Non-profit
Cambridge Junior College-Yuba City For-profit 31%
Career Academy of Beauty For-profit 22%
Career Care Institute For-profit 37%
Career Networks Institute For-profit 33%
Carrington College-Sacramento For-profit 37% 20%
Casa Loma College-Van Nuys Non-profit 27%
CBD College Non-profit 27%
Central Coast College For-profit 22%
Cerritos College Public 32%
CET-San Diego Non-profit 40%
Chabot College Public 37%
Chamberlain University-California For-profit 26% 24% 30%
Chapman University Non-profit 20% 18%
Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science Non-profit 37%
Cinta Aveda Institute For-profit 36%
Citrus College Public 33%
City College of San Francisco Public 43%
Claremont Graduate University Non-profit
Coastline Community College Public 43%
Cogswell University of Silicon Valley For-profit 32%
College of Marin Public 51%
College of the Canyons Public 37%
College of the Redwoods Public 37%
College of the Sequoias Public 32%
College of the Siskiyous Public 45%
Columbia College – Los Alamitos Non-profit 39% 38%
Columbia College Hollywood Non-profit 39% 32%
Concorde Career College-Garden Grove For-profit 27%
Concorde Career College-North Hollywood For-profit 29%
Concorde Career College-San Bernardino For-profit 35%
Concorde Career College-San Diego For-profit 37%
Concordia University-Irvine Non-profit 22% 27% 27%
Contra Costa College Public 37%
Cosumnes River College Public 45%
Cuesta College Public 30%
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone Non-profit 24% 33%
Cypress College Public 30%
De Anza College Public 34%
Design’s School of Cosmetology For-profit 36%
DeVry University-California For-profit 42% 29% 40%
Diablo Valley College Public 27%
Diversified Vocational College For-profit 51%
Dominican University of California Non-profit 20% 37%
East Los Angeles College Public 33%
Empire College For-profit 27%
Feather River Community College District Public 41%
Federico Beauty Institute For-profit 27%
FIDM-Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising-Los Angeles For-profit 30% 32%
Fielding Graduate University Non-profit 37%
Folsom Lake College Public 42%
Foothill College Public 35%
Fremont College For-profit 43%
Fresno City College Public 37%
Fresno Pacific University Non-profit 28% 38%
Fuller Theological Seminary Non-profit
Fullerton College Public 36%
Glendale Career College For-profit 22%
Glendale Community College Public 27%
Golden Gate University-San Francisco Non-profit 27%
Golden West College Public 32%
Grossmont College Public 30%
Gurnick Academy of Medical Arts For-profit 25%
Harvey Mudd College Non-profit 8%
High Desert Medical College For-profit 31%
Holy Names University Non-profit 31%
Homestead Schools Non-profit 32%
Hope International University Non-profit 30%
Humboldt State University Public 29% 22% 37%
Humphreys University-Stockton and Modesto Campuses Non-profit 41%
Hussian College-Los Angeles For-profit 53%
Institute for Business and Technology For-profit 36%
Institute of Culinary Education For-profit 19%
Institute of Technology For-profit 43%
InterCoast Colleges-Santa Ana For-profit 40%
International School of Beauty Inc For-profit 42%
International School of Cosmetology For-profit 32%
Irvine Valley College Public 37%
John F. Kennedy University Non-profit 37%
La Sierra University Non-profit 33% 27%
Laguna College of Art and Design Non-profit 27%
Laney College Public 47%
Laurus College For-profit 53%
Life Chiropractic College West Non-profit 47%
Life Pacific University Non-profit 22%
Loma Linda University Non-profit 22%
Long Beach City College Public 36%
Los Angeles Center Non-profit 29%
Los Angeles City College Public 37%
Los Angeles Film School For-profit 47% 37%
Los Angeles Mission College Public 37%
Los Angeles Pierce College Public 40%
Los Angeles Southwest College Public 32%
Los Angeles Trade Technical College Public 39%
Los Angeles Valley College Public 37%
Loyola Marymount University Non-profit 17% 24%
Lu Ross Academy For-profit 26%
Make-up Designory For-profit 19% 22%
Marshall B Ketchum University Non-profit 32%
Marymount California University Non-profit 35%
Mayfield College For-profit 39%
Mendocino College Public 42%
Menlo College Non-profit 27%
Merritt College Public 42%
Miami Ad School-San Francisco For-profit 32%
Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey Non-profit 14%
Milan Institute of Cosmetology-Fairfield For-profit 49%
Milan Institute-Fresno For-profit 46%
Milan Institute-Palm Desert For-profit 45%
Milan Institute-Visalia For-profit 34%
Mills College Non-profit 26%
MiraCosta College Public 37%
Moler Barber College For-profit
Monterey Peninsula College Public 42%
Moorpark College Public 32%
Moreno Valley College Public 32%
Mount Saint Mary’s University Non-profit 28% 17%
Mt San Antonio College Public 32%
MTI College For-profit 29%
Musicians Institute For-profit 35% 32%
National Career College For-profit 36%
National Holistic Institute For-profit 28%
National University Non-profit 32% 39%
New York Film Academy For-profit 35%
North Adrian’s College of Beauty Inc For-profit 46%
Northcentral University Non-profit 37%
North-West College-Pomona For-profit 24%
North-West College-Van Nuys For-profit 22%
North-West College-West Covina For-profit 22%
Notre Dame de Namur University Non-profit 26% 32% 47%
NTMA Training Centers of Southern California Non-profit 27%
Occidental College Non-profit 14%
Orange Coast College Public 29%
Otis College of Art and Design Non-profit 27% 32%
Pacific College For-profit 27%
Pacific College of Health and Science For-profit 42% 47%
Pacific Oaks College Non-profit 30%
Pacific Union College Non-profit 29%
Pacifica Graduate Institute For-profit 47%
Palo Alto University Non-profit 47%
Palomar College Public 32%
Palomar Institute of Cosmetology For-profit 22%
Pasadena City College Public 37%
Paul Mitchell the School-East Bay For-profit 27%
Paul Mitchell the School-Fresno For-profit 41%
Paul Mitchell the School-Modesto For-profit 32%
Paul Mitchell the School-Pasadena For-profit 32%
Paul Mitchell the School-Sacramento For-profit 37%
Paul Mitchell the School-Sherman Oaks For-profit 27%
Paul Mitchell the School-Temecula For-profit 32%
Pepperdine University Non-profit 20% 22% 39%
Pima Medical Institute-Chula Vista For-profit 29% 20%
Pitzer College Non-profit 17%
Platt College-Los Angeles For-profit 34%
Point Loma Nazarene University Non-profit 19% 27%
Premiere Career College For-profit 29%
Reedley College Public 42%
Relay Graduate School of Education – California Non-profit 37%
Riverside City College Public 34%
Sacramento City College Public 42%
Saddleback College Public 30%
SAE Expression College For-profit 42%
Saint Mary’s College of California Non-profit 19% 37% 32%
Salon Success Academy-Corona For-profit 42%
Salon Success Academy-Upland For-profit 36%
Samuel Merritt University Non-profit 8% 36%
San Diego Christian College Non-profit 32%
San Diego City College Public 41%
San Diego Mesa College Public 33%
San Diego Miramar College Public 32%
San Diego State University Public 21% 16% 38%
San Francisco Art Institute Non-profit 32%
San Francisco Institute of Esthetics & Cosmetology Inc For-profit 31%
San Francisco State University Public 24% 22% 35%
San Joaquin Delta College Public 46%
San Joaquin Valley College-Visalia For-profit 42% 22%
San Jose City College Public 42%
San Jose State University Public 18% 14% 33%
Santa Ana College Public 32%
Santa Barbara Business College-Bakersfield For-profit 45%
Santa Barbara Business College-Santa Maria For-profit 34%
Santa Barbara City College Public 36%
Santa Clara University Non-profit 9% 27%
Santa Monica College Public 33%
Santa Rosa Junior College Public 31%
Saybrook University Non-profit 37%
Shasta College Public 39%
Sierra College Public 40%
Simpson University Non-profit 20%
Solano Community College Public 42%
Sonoma State University Public 21% 14% 37%
South Baylo University Non-profit
South Coast College For-profit 42%
Southern California Health Institute For-profit 39%
Southern California Institute of Technology For-profit 23%
Southern California University of Health Sciences Non-profit 47%
Southwestern College Public 32%
Southwestern Law School Non-profit
Spartan College of Aeronautics & Technology For-profit 31%
Stanbridge University For-profit 20%
Stanford University Non-profit 12% 17%
SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary Non-profit 47%
Summit College For-profit 37%
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Anaheim Non-profit 32%
The Master’s University and Seminary Non-profit 12%
Thomas Jefferson School of Law Non-profit
Touro University California Non-profit
Touro University Worldwide Non-profit 32%
Trident University International For-profit 32% 33%
Trinity Law School Non-profit 31% 38%
UEI College-Fresno For-profit 50% 37%
UEI College-Gardena For-profit 46% 22%
United Education Institute-Huntington Park Campus For-profit 45% 37%
United States University For-profit 42%
Unitek College For-profit 21% 17%
Universal Technical Institute of California Inc For-profit 37% 22%
Universal Technical Institute of Northern California Inc For-profit 38% 22%
University of Antelope Valley For-profit 31%
University of California-Berkeley Public 13% 14% 30%
University of California-Davis Public 12% 13% 37%
University of California-Hastings College of Law Public
University of California-Irvine Public 15% 14% 37%
University of California-Los Angeles Public 15% 18% 33%
University of California-Merced Public 20% 18%
University of California-Riverside Public 22% 19%
University of California-San Diego Public 13% 12% 31%
University of California-San Francisco Public 32%
University of California-Santa Barbara Public 16% 19% 28%
University of California-Santa Cruz Public 20% 18% 32%
University of La Verne Non-profit 30% 27% 41%
University of Phoenix-California For-profit 43% 35% 42%
University of Redlands Non-profit 27% 27% 38%
University of San Diego Non-profit 16% 24%
University of San Francisco Non-profit 19% 22% 41%
University of Southern California Non-profit 16% 25%
University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences For-profit 32%
University of the Pacific Non-profit 19% 22%
Vanguard University of Southern California Non-profit 26% 27%
Ventura College Public 37%
Victor Valley College Public 46%
West Coast Ultrasound Institute For-profit 32%
West Coast University-Los Angeles For-profit 25% 30% 32%
West Hills College-Coalinga Public 47%
West Hills College-Lemoore Public 42%
West Los Angeles College Public 32%
Western University of Health Sciences Non-profit
Westmont College Non-profit 12%
Whittier College Non-profit 29% 32%
William Jessup University Non-profit 24%
Woodbury University Non-profit 37% 27%

Source: College Scorecard

One fix the department has worked on is the loan forgiveness program for borrowers working in public service, which would help educators like Brooks. Prior to the pandemic, even people who were eligible for forgiveness were denied, Kvaal said, which is why fewer than 7,000 people saw forgiveness. Since the Biden Administration announced changes to the program, so far up to 660,000 people have had their loans forgiven through public service. 

The Biden administration’s new repayment plan can also significantly cut loan payments or reduce them to $0, Kvaal said, adding that, so far, 4 million people have enrolled in the plan.  

Kvaal said the administration is looking at other options.

“The president has asked us to offer loan forgiveness to as many people as possible and as quickly as possible,” Kvaal said. “We’re telling students it’s time for them to repay. At the same time, we’re doing everything we can to reform the student loan program to make sure that students have access to the loan forgiveness that they have earned … and that people are taking advantage of the most affordable payment plan that has ever been created.”

Kvaal said the Education Department is also looking into the amount of debt that comes out of for-profit programs, online graduate programs and the Parent Plus loan program. 

Granville, from The Century Foundation, also has national recommendations. For example, Congress should lower the interest rate on student loans. According to The Debt Collective, Congress sets the interest rates for federal student loans. Those rates are tied to the 10-year Treasury note. Because the Federal Reserve has recently been increasing rates, the treasury bond rate has increased and so has the rate for new student loans. 

The current fixed rates for new undergraduate loans are at 5.5%, for graduate, 7.05% for professional unsubsidized loans, and 8.05% for Parent Plus and Grad Plus loans.

At the state and local level, Granville said that loan counseling needs to significantly change. Much of the responsibility for understanding student loans is often put on 18- and 19-year-olds, who may be the first in their families to go to college, Granville said. 

“The first answer is more grant aid for students so that we can reach a debt-free financing system, not just because it helps students as individuals, but because it helps the state,” he said. “We also haven’t done a great job setting up students for success despite all of their own personal investment in education. We can rectify that situation through more generous repayment plans, but we also need to make sure that we’re giving students high-quality options so they don’t need as much debt in the first place.” 

For Brooks, the high school principal with student debt, the ultimate solution is free education. 

“If you go to college, you’re stricken with debt,” Brooks said. “If you don’t go to college, then you don’t have a livable wage or enough money to survive. You have to do something.” 

And college tuition in California, prior to the mid-1980’s was free, she said. 

“I’m of the mindset that education is a public good and it serves everyone to have a highly educated populace,” Brooks said. “It should be free altogether.”

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