Student Loan Debt Is Rising. Can Your Association Help?

A recent report found that the average amount of student loan debt topped $30,000 for last year’s graduates. Such a burden could steer potential employees away from the nonprofit space, but one benefits trend could help organizations recruit young talent.

Like an elephant on their back, student loan debt can be a crushing burden for young adults—and the problem is only growing.

According to recent research by the Institute for College Access and Success, students who graduated with a four-year degree in 2015 are saddled with an average burden of $30,100. That’s a record high, but that number alone doesn’t tell the whole story, notes TICAS President Lauren Asher.

“This average is higher than ever before, and it represents a huge range of average debt loads at different schools, from $3,000 to more than $50,000,” Asher told the Christian Science Monitor. “These growing numbers signify that in the United States, more and more people are having to borrow to get a college education.”

Another notable point about the debt load: According to the TICAS survey [PDF], nearly one-fifth of loans carried by college grads nationally were nonfederal loans, which have fewer protections for students.

High Debt, Tough Decisions

This state of affairs could cause problems for students trying to pick their first job out of school. As Nonprofit Quarterly noted last week, graduates might have to opt for the bigger paycheck over the more altruistic gig, which could mean bad news for the nonprofit sector:

Student debt burdens can seem insurmountable, leading some to abandon nonprofit work. Student debt is a hindrance to recruiting employees who are diverse in racial, ethnic, and other qualities. For example, many nonprofits require bachelor’s degrees as a minimum education level for applicants, but very few have systems in place for supporting staff with debt. This disproportionately impacts people of color and people who are the first in their families to graduate college—groups that tend to graduate with more debt—and shrinks the pool of applicants for nonprofit jobs.

The piece highlights the work of CalNonprofits, which launched the Nonprofit Student Debt Project to inform graduating students of public-service loan-forgiveness options. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is available for Federal Direct loans after the graduate makes a certain number of monthly payments.

Could Associations Help?

Associations may have employees facing such a debt plight, and their corporate or individual members may be in the same situation.

One option available to help workers manage their student loans is to establish a student loan repayment benefit, in which employers set aside a certain amount of money, before taxes, to assist workers with paying off their student loan debt.

The American Bankers Association is implementing this approach, offering up to $1,200 per year toward the employee’s student loan payments. The benefit has a lifetime cap of $10,000. In a report in ABA Banking Journal, the group says the program is part of its broader effort to help eradicate student loan debt.

“We’re encouraging our members to consider offering a benefit like this to help attract and retain millennials in their individual markets,” ABA President and CEO Rob Nichols told the Journal. “Since so few employers currently offer such benefits, we see this as an opportunity for banks to uniquely position themselves to attract and retain young talent.”

The group is considering making the benefit available to its members as well.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!