Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

It's no surprise student debt has ballooned beyond a trillion dollars in the past couple of years. Tuition is up, state funding is down, and students are left to pick up the slack in an economy that is still struggling to gain momentum.


Between 2003 and 2012, median tuition increased 55 percent at the nation's public colleges, which account for 67 percent of all college enrollment, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. At the same time, state funding declined by 12 percent.

That means that tuition revenue now makes up for more of colleges' overall revenue than state funding, and a lot of it comes from student loans.

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Federal funding for college comes mostly in the form of student loans - meaning borrowed money, although there are options like Pell Grants and work-study for lower-income students.

According to figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student debt was around $250 billion in 2003. By 2012, it was nearly a trillion, a massive figure it has now surpassed.

The bottom line? College is more unaffordable than ever.

President Obama is set to discuss college affordability in Tennessee on Friday, where thousands of the state's high school graduates can take free community college courses through a program called the Tennessee Promise.

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The good news is that both Republicans and Democrats agree the federal student loan system is too cumbersome and confusing. Predictably, there's been some bickering over details of what any reforms should look like, but there's general agreement that students need better counseling about student loans, and we may see legislation this year around providing students with financial aid guidance, including accurate cost predictions. There may also be some proposals to streamline loan repayment programs.


One thing you won't see? Republicans are unlikely to heed President Obama's calls to link the amount of student loans a college receives with graduation and job placement rates anytime soon.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.

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