Student loans and their alternatives: improving the performance of deferred payment programs


The opportunities for increasing student contributions to the costs of higher education are many. Student loans have received much attention both in literature and in practice. While they have not always worked well, we have argued that suitably reformed, they can constitute a productive, though limited, mechanism for cost recovery. In certain countries, however, other mechanisms may be more appropriate. Indeed, the policy maker is presented with a wide menu of policy choices, though some creativity may be required in their application to particular local settings. Currently, loan programs exist in over 50 developing and industrial countries, and have been introduced most commonly to assist students to pay their living expenses.

In order to improve financial effectiveness, programs should be targeted toward the most needy and able students. Hidden subsidies should be limited by charging positive real interest rates, combined with repayment plans that take account of the likely pattern of graduate earnings. Default reductions require that loan programs be managed by institutions with the capacity and financial incentives to collect - namely banks, private collection agencies, or taxation departments. Such reforms offer great potential to transform small programs into relatively efficient forms of student support.

Larger programs, however, may be more difficult to manage. Some countries have considered alternatives which preserve the basic concept of paying for education from future income. The most notable is a graduate tax in which a student pays a fixed percentage of income over the entire working life, regardless of how much is repaid. Another option is national service which require students to perform socially productive work in exchange for part or all of education costs. In the presence of an effective tax system, a graduate tax could bring in significantly more revenue than traditional loan programs. Besides improved financial efficiency, income contingent payments may be more equitable since they limit the risk to poorer students. In countries with weak taxation systems, this option may not be feasible.

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Albrecht, D., Ziderman, A. Student loans and their alternatives: improving the performance of deferred payment programs. High Educ 23, 357–374 (1992).

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  • Real Interest Rate
  • Financial Efficiency
  • Student Loan
  • Collection Agency
  • Living Expense