New research shows claims about student debt over blown

Testing policy options with actual evidence is a novel idea and is generally absent from the often inane, evidence-free suggestions we have to put up with in New Zealand.

All sorts of claims have been made by politicians regarding student in New Zealand, but the funny thing is none of their claims are new. They are just recycled attack points from overseas. The most recent claims are of course from Labour who have variously claimed that student debt affects home ownership and their new policy of free degrees is to help stop the “problems” of student debt.

I expect we would see echoes in New Zealand of the ‘Evidence Speaks’ findings from the US, which contradicts all of Labour’s claims.

1. Student loans aren’t pushing down homeownership rates
For several years, leading economic thinkers such as Larry Summers and Joseph Stiglitz have proposed that high levels of student debt are creating a drag on the housing market.

New Evidence Speaks research from Nonresident Senior Fellow Susan Dynarski challenges that assumption, finding that student debt isn’t the reason homeownership rates are dropping. Rather, the main division between the home ownership “haves” and “have-nots” is their education level—not their debt.

Dynarski finds that while those without a college degree are more likely to own a home at an earlier age than those who went to college and accrued debt, the college-educated catch up fast. By 27, those with a college degree overtake those without degrees in homeownership. By 35, the gap in homeownership between those with and without a college education is about 14 percent.

“The college-educated—even those with student debt—are winners in our economy,” Dynarski concludes.


That’s one myth busted. What about free university education helping the poor? That’s Labour’s new policy, three years free university:

2. Free college proposals like Bernie Sanders’ would help the rich more than the poor

On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders’ plan to make tuition free at public colleges and universities has received a lot of attention. It caught the eye of Evidence Speaks contributor and Urban Institute Senior Fellow Matthew Chingos, who sought to uncover who would really benefit from the plan.

Chingos’ analysis of the free college proposal found that families from the top half of the income distribution would receive 24 percent more in dollar value than students from the lower half of the income distribution, largely because the wealthy tend to attend more expensive institutions.


Making tuition free, Chingos notes, wouldn’t cover the other costs of going to college, such as living expenses, that are often larger than the costs of tuition and fees for most students attending in-state schools. These annual out-of-pocket college costs would still leave families from the bottom half of the income distribution with nearly $18 billion that would not be covered by existing federal, state, and institutional grant programs.

Chingos writes: “It is important to emphasize that this analysis is only a starting point for considering the potential distributional consequences of making college free. The most significant limitation of this analysis is that it does not consider the likely impacts on enrollment of eliminating tuition and fees…but the ultimate design of proposals to change how students and taxpayers pay for higher education should carefully consider their likely distributional consequences and the tradeoffs between targeted and universal programs.”

Ouch! So both of labour’s big tertiary education claims aren’t supported by any evidence. In fact the evidence suggest the opposite.

Wouldn’t it be nice if some academics conducted some similar research here and looked at the results instead of relying on the words of opposition parties.



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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.