In NYT, Susan Dynarski compares student debt on international scale

April 27, 2018

Susan Dynarski and Matthew Chingos of the Urban Institute devised a March Madness bracket-style tournament comparing tuition and loan systems in their April 2 article, “An international final four: which country handles student debt best?” They gathered “experts with a wide range of perspectives” to make their final winning picks.

Comparing Australia, Britain, Sweden, and the United States, Dynarski considers national debt levels, repayment plans, and tuition rates across the four countries. The focus is on these nations “because they highlight important differences both in loan repayment systems and in related policies such as tuition and loan limits,” Dynarski writes, “not necessarily because they all belong among the best systems in the world.”

The preliminary rounds were Sweden vs. United States and Australia vs. Britain. Dynarski and experts unanimously favor Sweden for its advantageous extended repayment window, offering “a simpler and more manageable repayment process for students.” Australia, on the other hand, just barely beat Britain, with a much more affordable and forgiving loan system.

In the final round of Australia vs. Sweden, Australia wins with its “automatic collection of income-based payments,” what Dynarski considers to be “a critical ingredient of a well-functioning loan system.” 

In considering the United States’ own price of tuition and questions of access, Dynarski proposes, “rethinking payment is a start, but bigger changes to how students pay for college may be necessary.”