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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

9 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.