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While Biden wavers on loan forgiveness, nearly 1 in 3 U.S. students say they don’t think they’ll ever pay off their debt

April 28, 2022, 10:00 AM UTC

While President Biden strings along student loan borrowers without taking decisive action on debt forgiveness, many college students are losing hope he’ll ever follow through with his campaign promises.

Nearly half of U.S. undergraduates with student loans said their debt makes them wish they’d made different choices, according to the Global Student Survey by Chegg.org, the nonprofit arm of education tech company Chegg, released this morning. 

The survey was conducted among 17,000 undergraduates in 21 countries. A quarter of the survey’s U.S. respondents said their university education was not a good value for its money—tied for fourth place with South Korea and Canada, and trailing behind Japan (27%), the U.K. (32%), and Turkey (38%).

Thirty-two percent of U.S. students with loans said they don’t think they’ll ever pay them off. But this isn’t a uniquely American problem; in the U.K., that figure stands at 48%, and in Germany, it’s 61%. 

Nearly four in five (78%) of U.S. students said they’d opt for more online classes if it meant paying lower tuition fees. That’s despite the fact that nearly half of U.S. students (44%) said their professors don’t know how to teach effectively online—well above the 36% global average.

“College students face profound societal challenges including widening inequality, increasing automation, and climate change,” Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig said. “These findings make clear that higher education must become more accessible, affordable, and responsive to what learners really need.”

The stress of going to college during a pandemic has taken its toll. Of students worldwide, 60% said the pandemic ruined their college experience, and 40% said it will permanently damage their job prospects. 

And these students are stressed about their debt: in the US, over a quarter said their loans have made them so anxious that they’ve sought medical help; and nearly half said they’ve lost sleep.

“We talk about debt, often, from a socioeconomic standpoint, and we forget the human implications,” Marc Boxser, Chegg’s VP of communications and policy, tells Fortune. Yet despite the stress, U.S. students ultimately value a university education; 65% of them said it prepared them well for the job market. 

“Generally I think people have an idealized view of the university,” Boxser says. “They think people are on campus, having a really rich experience. But one in five students are parents themselves, one in three are working full-time; only one in seven live on campus. More than anything else, students are going to school to get a good job. That’s what comes through in this survey: They’re most concerned about their cost of living, the cost of a degree, and their work prospects.”

As we emerge from the pandemic, Boxser believes, it’s crucial for policymakers and university leaders to find ways to make higher education more affordable. That could also mean rethinking the importance of a physical campus and in-person classes, both of which students roundly said they’d sacrifice for a lower price.

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