What Does Student Debt Look Like In Your Neighborhood?

Dec 03, 2015
Activity, Paying for College, Question of the Day, Research, Student Loans, Current Events, Chart of the Week, Math

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Check out this cool interactive tool (Ok, those with student debt which now total over $1 trillion might not think it is that cool) brought to you by mappingstudentdebt.org that allows students to find student loan levels, loan delinquency rates and median income by Zip Code. For a stats teacher, your students could have a lot of fun deconstructing the methods used to present the data (Warning: Be ready for terms like jenks, choropeth or winsorizing in the data descriptions).

So, one fun way to use the data that will be approachable for all students is to ask them to focus on the nearest major city:

  • Once they zero in on that city using the +/- in the upper left of the map (or just point cursor over city and hit RETURN until it gets to the right size.
  • Now, that you have the city on the map, use the layer AVERAGE LOAN BALANCE (on dropdown menu) to determine what average loan balance looks like.  Here is an example of the Boston area with the high average loan balances shown in the darker colors. Having lived in Boston earlier in my career, I remember hearing that Boston has the highest concentration of graduate degrees in the US (who carry the highest debt burdens) which the map bears out:

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  • Next, have students use the layer DELINQUENCY keeping the city view the same. Here is what that view looks like for the same Boston area with the lighter the color being the lower delinquency:

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So, the question for students is why do areas with high loan balances (darker Zip Codes in the first map) seem to have low delinquency rates (light color in the 2nd map). See if they come up with missing piece which is Median Income. The relationship being the higher your income, the easier it is to pay off your student loans (and therefore the lower your delinquencies.  This Median Income map of Boston confirms this hypothesis:

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Students will also enjoy clicking on the various zip codes in their immediate area and seeing how these three variables (student loan debt, delinquency and median income) are interrelated.


Check out this popular NGPF Excel Activity: Three Students Budget for the Semester


Additional articles on this interactive map and what it tells us:

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

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