Our inspiration was the news: President Biden considering federal student debt relief up to $50,000. We realized that it is difficult to understand how this policy might impact undergraduate students, so we chose to write a data-driven piece on the subject.

What it does

Our article discusses what federal student debt relief would mean for undergraduates. We provide a non-biased, comprehensive view of the potential impact of student loan cancellation on loan repayment, inequalities between racial/ethnic groups, and its context in the broader federal budget.

How we built it

Our data visualizations were built with Flourish, and the article was assembled in HTML and javascript. Data wrangling was done in python and R. The article was launched through GitHub pages.

Challenges we ran into

First, we struggled with choosing a topic that we thought would be relevant to college students and could be discussed in a data-driven way; we were limited by the amount of data readily available on topics, especially as the time constraint meant we were unable to do much unique data collection. Second, the topic of college debt cancellation was so broad, we struggled with narrowing our topic and only conveying information relevant to undergrads (which is why we largely avoided talking about graduate students). Furthermore, student loans are an emotionally-charged topic, so we had to intentionally keep our article non-biased.

Accomplishments that we’re proud of

We are proud that the article tells a cohesive and unique story about federal student debt. In particular, the data visualization with every four-year institution in the U.S. gives a personalized picture of student loan repayment for undergrads of different backgrounds in each school, portraying unique data that is not readily available elsewhere.

What we learned

We gained skills in communication with data and we learned more about the college debt crisis. This was also our first time using Flourish, a decision we made because of the time tradeoff with coding unique visualizations with d3 (which was our initial intention).

What’s next for The Trillion Dollar Question: Student Debt Cancellation

While the rising tide of debt relief would lift all students, we observed that the students most struggling to pay off their debt tend to be Black/African American and from low income families. We therefore believe that debt cancellation would benefit these students most. However, the inequities we observed in the amounts of loans taken out will probably not be affected by student debt relief. The question of how to alleviate these inequities therefore remains open.

More analysis can also be done including the perspectives of students who enroll but do not graduate from college, attend graduate school, or do not enroll in college due to financial constraints at all.

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