A recent survey by LendEDU found that just over 30% of spring breakers anticipated using student loan funds to pay for spring break trips. The results of this survey were picked up by many media outlets and commenters were outraged that student loans were being used for such a trip.
Furthering the narrative that college students are frivolously spending student loan dollars fuels taxpayer outrage and generates website clicks. Facts take a backseat. For example, the New York Post erroneously reported that, “Roughly 30 percent of US students will tap into their growing pile of college debt to pay for their weeklong frolic.” The survey sampled 500 college students who were going on spring break trips. According to the travel site Orbitz, 55% of college students travel during spring break. That means close to 50% of students do not travel during spring break. These students were not among the 500 people surveyed and they certainly are not using student loan dollars to pay for a trip. The Post’s claim that 30% of US students use student loans for spring break is false.
The problem with stories of this nature is that it paints a picture of student loan borrowers as irresponsible, and therefore undeserving of any assistance with repayment of their student debt. When the time comes to discuss student loan public policy, flawed statistics like the one in the New York Post shift the focus away from borrowers who cannot afford a home because of student debt or who are putting off having children because of student debt. If student borrowers are seen as undeserving, any subsidy in their direction, regardless of the economic or social benefit to society, will be seen as undesirable.
Student loans borrowing is regulated by the terms of individual loans, the colleges, and the Department of Education. The Department of Education allows borrowing for tuition, housing, food, and personal expenses associated with going to school. The job of the school is calculate the total cost of attendance, including all of the allowable costs permitted by the Department of Education. This total cost of attendance is the maximum student loan borrowing that can be done by any student. Federal borrowing is subject to this cap, and further reduced by any scholarships, grants, or private borrowing. Absent fraud, a student cannot borrow beyond the total cost of attendance at a school.
If a student uses funds for a student loan check they were issued, it likely means they were able to save money on housing or food costs in order have the surplus funds. It could also be as simple as they used work income to pay for housing and the student loan check to use towards spring break. This would represent less than ideal accounting practices, but it would hardly be cause for taxpayer outrage and the student would not face any repercussions.
Stories of students frivolously spending their student loans on spring break are plagued by inaccurate reporting and contribute to a false narrative that can be damaging to the national discourse. These stories make for nice headlines but for significant issues like student loans, a closer adherence to facts should be the goal.