Jennifer Mishory, deputy director for advocacy group Young Invincibles, said student loans are particularly burdensome because, unlike other forms of debt, it's nearly impossible to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy.
Shift in college costs
Student loans are becoming increasingly necessary because of the rising cost of college. Those rising costs are partly the result of a drop in state funding for public schools, Mishory said.
According to a recent study from nonprofit group Demos, state funding for higher education nationwide has increased about $10.5 billion since 1990, but funding per student has declined by about 26 percent in the same period, leaving students to make up the difference.
That trend also exists in Oklahoma. Since the 1980 fiscal year, the University of Oklahoma has seen tuition and fees overtake state appropriations as the university's largest funding source.
In 1980, the university received 38.1 percent of its budget from the state. Just 10.4 percent of the university's budget came from tuition and fees, making it the fourth-largest revenue source.
Last year, state appropriations accounted for 18 percent of the university's budget. Tuition and fees, the largest revenue generator, made up 27.7 percent of OU's budget.
At Oklahoma State University, state appropriations accounted for 42.6 percent of the university's budget in 1980 — by far the largest share. Last year at OSU, state appropriations and tuition and fees each made up about 21 percent of the university's budget.
The largest percentage of OSU's budget last year came from auxiliary enterprises, such as residential life, dining services and revenue from use fees at Lake Carl Blackwell.
That money accounted for 26 percent of the university's budget.
The growth of student loan debt among borrowers age 50 and older is likely due to a number of factors, Mishory said, including parents borrowing to pay their children's tuition and a growing pool of older, nontraditional college students.
Age adds to burden
Although paying back student loans presents a challenge for any borrower, Mishory said, it can be even more difficult for older borrowers who often are repaying the loans while paying for their children's school and planning for retirement.
An added challenge is that health care costs tend to increase with age, she said.
“Having the burden of a monthly payment that can be really large really can affect anyone's ability to save for retirement,” Mishory said.
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