Today, most four-year college graduates have borrowed funds to help pay for their education, and students throughout the higher education system—whether at major universities, community colleges, or other types of postsecondary institutions—take on debt to pursue advancement.

But many of these borrowers struggle with repayment and end up in default. Nationwide, policymakers, higher education institutions, and other experts are working to craft effective, evidence-based solutions to the challenges of student debt. However, a lack of key data about the causes of default and the barriers to exiting default has limited policymakers’ and the public’s understanding of this issue.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ student loan research project worked to address this information gap by providing research and analysis that informed the public and illuminated discussions around possible solutions. The project similarly explored the situation of military veterans—a unique but important subset of those with student debt. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (post-9/11 GI Bill), passed by Congress in 2008, made the most generous and comprehensive federal investment in veterans’ higher education in history, covering the cost of in-state tuition, fees, books, and even housing. Then in August 2017, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (Forever GI Bill) became law and expanded those benefits. Nevertheless, despite having access to GI Bill funds, some veterans still take out loans. More research is needed to grasp the scope and scale of veterans’ debt and understand why a significant number of veterans borrow despite being eligible for federal support.

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

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