Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

5 fact-checks about the high cost of college tuition

Put our fact-checks about college tuition and student loans on your reading list for the new semester.
Put our fact-checks about college tuition and student loans on your reading list for the new semester.

As students head back to college this month, many will find it a tough call about what’s more stressful -- their homework, or their looming student debt.

In recent months, PolitiFact has done a number of fact-checks about tuition and student debt. Here are five of them:

"In 1978, a student who worked a minimum-wage summer job could afford to pay a year's full tuition at the 4-year public university of their choice." Mostly True.

This claim came from a meme created by OurTime.org, an advocacy group for young Americans. When you look at the historical data, the comparison is basically proven correct. The only problem is the part about a university "of their choice." It’s correct if you use in-state tuition, but not for any university in the country, where out-of-state rates may well have kicked up the tuition amount beyond a summer’s minimum-wage haul. We rated the claim Mostly True.

"In 31 states, decent child care costs more than college tuition." Mostly True.

President Barack Obama made this claim during an address to a White House Summit on Working Families. It’s based on a statistic that originated in a wide-ranging survey of child care costs (albeit one published by an advocacy group). However, Obama cherry-picked the most dramatic statistic of four presented in the report, and he also ignored uncertainty about how federal aid and tax credits would affect the comparison. We rated the claim Mostly True.

U.S. student debt has surpassed credit card debt. True

This claim comes from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. PolitiFact Virginia found that student debt began to outpace credit card debt in the second quarter of 2010, when college loans hit $762 billion. Student debt topped the $1 trillion mark in the third quarter of 2013. Warner’s statement earned a rating of True.

"The average student comes out of college hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt." False.

Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a Democrat and gubernatorial hopeful, overshot the runway on this one. The College Board’s "Trends in Student Aid" report for 2012 found that the average debt among graduates who borrowed to get a bachelor's degree was $25,300. A second source, the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success, through its Project on Student Debt, found something similar -- $26,600. Even if you only looked at private, nonprofit four-year colleges and universities, where the costs are higher, the average debt for graduates who had borrowed was $29,900. Raimondo's office acknowledged the error to PolitiFact Rhode Island; on the Truth-O-Meter, the original claim earned a False.

College students "who are NOT U.S. Citizens and who get the PELL Grant" plan to return to their home countries after getting free gas cards and child care. Pants on Fire.

A chain email alleged that foreign students are ripping off the U.S. by getting federal grants to go to college and then ditching our country to return home. But while green card residents can get Pell Grants, those people are generally legal permanent residents -- not people looking to return to their own countries. And there are no free gas cards or child care involved. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.