Listening to the Hearing on College Affordability (HEA), it is clear that discussing the validity of the Bennett Hypothesis will get us nowhere.Research on the question has produced mixed results, which allows anyone to ‘believe’ or ‘not believe’ in it. Instead of arguing about whether federal aid (and specifically federal loans) drive up the price of college or not, why don’t we focus on its impact on students and whether it achieves the goals it was set to achieve?

Does a college degree financed by loans leads to economic mobility for those who need it the most? Does a college degree financed by loans act as an equalizer? Can most of borrowers earn enough with their college degrees to repay the debt they accrued?

A growing body of research shows that regardless of how much students pay for college, borrowers are struggling to pay back even small amounts of debt. Only 45 percent are repaying on time, thanks to income-driven repayment plans (half of those who can repay are enrolled in some IDR plan). However, only 17 percent of those in IDR plans are set to pay their loans in full, with more than 50 percent having a portion of their debt forgiven.

One thing is clear: only a small portion of college degrees are worth the debt accrued to obtain them.

Now it is time to ask the tough questions:

  • Are loans helping students afford college if they end up burdening them for most of their prime years?
  • Are loans increasing college access if a large portion of students drop-out, or graduate with a low-quality degrees which don’t allow them repay their debt?

Accountability should be part of the equation, but equally important, we need to move away from financing our degrees with debt. Our economy is in need of college educated workforce, and it can afford replacing loans with grants. But we ought to not be complacent with our the broken financial aid system and demand Zero Debt!