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Expand chart
Data: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Axios Visuals

For a period in 2018, tuition inflation was lower than the rate at which consumer prices were rising for the first time since the early 1980s, according to research from S&P Global Ratings.

The big picture: Baumol's cost disease, which says that tuition fees are always going to rise faster than inflation, might not be an iron law after all.

Is there a crisis in student loans? Maybe not.

  • Student debt burdens can be extremely unpleasant for individual borrowers, but they don't seem to be impeding the progress of the economy more broadly. The Americans with the highest student-debt burdens also tend to be the Americans most able to repay those loans: doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.
  • The highest student-loan default rates are found among the students with the lowest student debt burden: borrowers who owe the government less than $5,000.
  • The median ratio of educational debt to income for households under 35 fell 5 percentage points between 2013 and 2016. The situation isn't great, but it's getting better, not worse.

Yes, but: The stock of student debt is already dangerously high, at $1.5 trillion and rising. It has grown by 157% in the past 11 years, even as mortgage and credit-card debts outstanding have remained largely flat.

  • More than 10% of borrowers are more than 90 days behind on their student loans.

The bottom line: "Stronger income growth and slower cost increases are working to bend the leverage trend," as S&P puts it. "This trend of rising student debt isn't necessarily a bad thing. Education is an investment in human capital, and if the skills acquired are valued by employers, then going to college carries a positive net present value — even with debt financing."

Go deeper

Rohingya refugees sue Facebook over Myanmar hate speech

Internally displaced Rohingya peoples at a market area in the Baw Du Pha IDP Camp in Sittwe in Myanmar's western Rakhine state. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Rohingya refugees accused Facebook in a $150 million lawsuit filed Monday of amplifying hate speech against the persecuted minority Muslims in Myanmar via algorithms and failing to take down inflammatory posts.

Why it matters: Thousands of Rohingya adults and children have been killed in what the United Nations deemed a genocidal campaign against the Muslim minority. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have been displaced, notably following a massacre by Myanmar's military in 2017.

Former D.C. Guard alleges Army generals lied about Jan. 6 response

Members of the National Guard and Capitol police keep a small group of pro-Trump demonstrators away from the Capitol following the insurrection on Jan. 6. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A former D.C. National Guard official has alleged that top Army generals "lied" to Congress in their testimony on the U.S. Capitol riot, Politico first reported Monday.

The big picture: Col. Earl Matthews, who was serving on Jan. 6, alleges in a memo that the official version on the military response is "worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist" and that the Pentagon inspector general's November report on it features "myriad inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, or examples of faulty analysis."

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.