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Don’t blame student loan debt on the few schools with large endowments

University of Chicago men's rugby team players practiced on the Midway Plaisance near campus on May 6, 2021.Shafkat Anowar/Associated Press

It is wrong to suggest there is a relationship between the small number of colleges and universities with large endowments and the issue of burdensome student loan debt (“How the richest university endowments exacerbate inequality,” Ideas, Sept. 4).

There is no relationship — none, nada, zip, zero — between the endowment at one institution and the level of debt students incur to pay for their education at another school. What is directly related, however, is the long-running problem of state disinvestment in public higher education, the institutions attended by some three-quarters of all college students.

Here’s the basic equation for why student debt levels increase: State budget cuts translate to higher tuition, which results in increased borrowing by students and parents. Today, more than 40 percent of the revenue at public colleges comes from tuition, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. And in states such as Delaware and Vermont, it’s at roughly 70 percent. A generation ago, it was 20 percent.


Borrowing large amounts of money to pay for a college education is a serious problem that demands attention. But misdiagnosing the nature of the problem does nothing but confuse the issue.

Terry W. Hartle

Senior vice president

American Council on Education

Washington, D.C.