Curious Comment About Rise in Student Loan Defaults

In a recent essay for Voices In Society, Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, makes an offhand remark about student loan defaults that caught my attention:

Sure, college is expensive—stories of students racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student-loan debt are common. Federal student-loan default rates jumped from 7 percent in 2008 to 8.8 percent in 2009, so it’s clear that not everyone is handling that debt responsibly. (my emphasis)

Maybe some of those borrowers were irresponsible, but that 7 percent default rate jump occurred just after the worst recession in decades—one that was characterized by double digit unemployment in many states. I wonder how many borrowers during this period suddenly found themselves in a position, through no fault of their own, where it became impossible to continue to make their payments.

Something else was going on around this time, too:

“I hear a lot of talk that these are just rogue actors,” Mr. Harkin began one question to Gregory D. Kutz, who led the undercover investigation for the Government Accountability Office. “Would you say that misleading and deceptive practices are the exception, or are these more widespread?”

Mr. Kutz responded that while investigators found “good practices” at a handful of colleges, none of the 15 colleges it visited were “completely clean.” At each of them, recruiters and admissions officers made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to investigators posing as applicants.