USA Today Hypes Student Debt Loads

     As graduation season wound down, the June 12 USA Today alarmed readers with a look at the “growing number of college grads” who owe more than $100,000 in student loans. But even the article’s author briefly conceded that’s the exception, not the rule.

     “The average college senior graduated this year with more than $19,000 in debt. That’s a problem Joe Palazzolo would love to have,” correspondent Sandra Block began her front-page story. Palazzolo, she continued, finished a graduate degree in public policy from Rutgers and now has more than $116,000 in student loans.

     In fact, the Rutgers alumnus owes more than twice what the average student in his situation would owe. According to the 2002 National Student Loan Survey by loan provider Nellie Mae, college undergrads borrowed an average of $18,900 while graduate students borrowed “an additional $31,700.” Added together, the $50,600 total is less than half of what Palazzolo owes.

     “I feel like I’ve done everything I was supposed to do,” the public policy student complained to USA Today, asking, “What did I do wrong?”

     Block didn’t say where Palazzolo earned his undergraduate degree, nor did she mention ways the 25-year-old graduate could have held down his debt by working a few years after college or attending less expensive institutions. Instead, the reporter focused only on the prescriptions of interest groups that call for more federal regulation of student loans, such as Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and the liberal Project on Student Debt.

     What’s more, Block left out how graduate degrees help earning potential and employment prospects. According to a 2003 survey by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), master’s degree holders have an unemployment rate of only 3.3 percent and earn a median weekly salary of $1,064, or more than $55,000 a year. That’s 18 percent more than Americans who earned just a bachelor’s degree.

     The Business & Media Institute has repeatedly documented the media’s biases on student loans, including a focus on debt loads over strong job opportunities.