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Politifact: Gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich gives misleading student debt numbers

Posted at 10:02 PM, Mar 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-21 18:22:45-04

Former Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich has been given a "false" rating by Politifact on his misleading student debt numbers.

Kucinich, who is competing in the May 8 Democratic primary for governor, said young people look toward college with fear because they can't afford it. He has promised if he is elected governor, he will make it possible for college-age Ohioans to attend a two-year college tuition free.

Politifact analyzed the following statement on Kucinich's campaign website:

The default rate for students ten years ago was about 40%. Then students were borrowing only one-third of what they are borrowing today, when the default rate approaches 50%. Perhaps as many as 800,000 young Ohioans are facing default on their student loans.

While it's no secret student debt is a big problem, Politifact said he didn't get the numbers right.

Default rates

As far as the default rates are concerned, his claim that "the default rate for students ten years ago was about 40 percent" is based on a report by Columbia professor Judith Scott-Clayton for the Brookings Institution. 

The report analyzed data on student debt and repayment released by the U.S. Education Department in Oct. 2017 and projected that about 40 percent of students who entered college in 2004 will default by 2023. Therefore, these numbers are a prediction for the future, but Kucinich presented these numbers as a default rate in the past. Kucinich also wrote about student debt as a broad problem, but the Brookings report shows default rates are higher for students who attend for-profit colleges and students of color.

Politifact was not able to find any data to support Kucinich's statement that the student default rate approaches 50 percent today. According to data released by the U.S. Education Department in 2017, the national default rate for the 2014 cohort was 11.5 percent. It was 13.6 percent in Ohio.

'Perhaps as many as 800,000 young Ohioans are facing default on their student loans.'

According to the U.S. Education Department state data for the FY 2014 cohort, only 28,955 Ohio borrowers defaulted on their student loans, or 13.6 percent.

So how did Kucinich come up with 800,000?

According to Politifact, a spokesman from his campaign said 14 percent of the national population are federal student loan borrowers, or 44 million. Based on these numbers, 1.6 million Ohio residents have federal student loans. Using the campaign's estimate that half will default (which Politifact found no data to support), that gives us 800,000.

Politifact Truth-O-Meter