Higher education has proved to be a powerful path toward upward economic mobility, especially for Americans at the lowest rung of the income ladder, and federal student loans can be an effective tool for increasing access to postsecondary education.

However, millions of Americans struggle with loan repayment. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2017 more than 8 million federal student loan borrowers were in default—having made no payments in at least a year—and close to 3 million William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program (commonly known as direct loan) borrowers were more than 30 days delinquent. Failing to pay student loans can harm borrowers’ credit, among other negative outcomes.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ project on student borrower success sought to promote successful repayment of student debt among those most at risk of default and delinquency. To that end, it conducted research on two elements of the student loan system pivotal to borrower success: loan repayment, especially among borrowers at the greatest risk for delinquency and default, and loan servicing. Based on its research, the project also recommended reforms that could improve repayment and servicing outcomes for student loan borrowers.

In 2023, the project on student borrower success merged with the student loans research project. Together, their work at Pew continues under the student loans initiative.

Our Work


Student Loan Initiative

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Over the past several years, the U.S. Department of Education and Congress have made important policy changes to the federal student loan repayment system. But much work remains to ensure that borrowers fully benefit from these new policies, especially those who struggle to repay their loans.