**The Hidden Costs of Student Loans: Impact on Health and Access to Care**
Student loans have become a prevalent part of financing higher education, but new research suggests that these loans may have hidden costs, impacting the physical and mental health of borrowers. This article explores the findings of a study conducted on college students and their experiences with loans, providing insights into the effects on health and access to medical care. The implications of these findings and the broader significance of the issue are also examined.
**Worse Health Outcomes for Loan Borrowers**
The study, published in the Journal of American College Health, surveyed over 3,200 college students from two public universities in the United States in 2017. The research revealed that students who took out loans to pay for college reported worse overall health and mental health compared to those who did not have loans. Additionally, these borrowers experienced more major medical problems and were more likely to delay medical, dental, and mental health care. To save money, they also admitted to using less medication than prescribed.
Even after accounting for factors such as race, age, gender, parental education level, and marital status, the study found that students with loans had worse outcomes than those without loans.
**Mental Health Care Delays**
Surprisingly, despite reporting poorer mental health, students with loans were just as likely as students without loans to receive a new mental health diagnosis or treatment during college. They also visited mental health practitioners and used mental health medication at similar rates. However, loan borrowers were almost twice as likely as their loan-free peers to delay mental health care.
**The Significance of the Issue**
The findings of this study highlight the potentially detrimental effects of student loans on borrowers’ physical and mental health. The stress associated with student debt can negatively impact students while they are still in college, leading to overall poorer health outcomes. This is especially concerning as college is a crucial period in an individual’s life, as they establish habits that can persist beyond graduation.
Declining to seek medical care can result in exacerbated medical problems and ultimately diminish the health and well-being of college graduates with loans. This undermines one of the main benefits of attaining a college degree, which is improved health.
**The Current State of Higher Education Funding**
The study underscores the current state of higher education funding in the United States, where access to free or low-cost public higher education has eroded. State budgets have failed to keep up with the rising demand and costs of higher education, leading to the majority of individuals taking on debt in order to obtain a college degree.
According to the most recent national data, 62% of 2019 graduates from public or private nonprofit four-year universities had student debt. This reliance on student loans increases the financial burden on students and may have long-lasting consequences on their health and well-being.
The researchers of the study are currently working on a book that delves deeper into the effects of debt on life after college. Thus far, they have found that inequalities in health and delays in seeking medical care persist even after graduation. College graduates who deferred doctor visits to save money during college were more likely to experience major medical problems in the months and years following graduation. Furthermore, these graduates were still putting off medical care to save money, indicating that these habits continue beyond college.
These findings highlight the need for comprehensive strategies to address the impact of student loans on health and access to care. The implications go beyond the college years and suggest long-term effects that require attention and solutions.
**Authors and Sources**
This article was written by Arielle Kuperberg, Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro, and Joan Maya Mazelis, Associate Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University. The original article was published on The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons license.