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Student Loans

The article, Why Students with Smallest Debts have the Larger Problem, is a nice article to get students exercising their reasoning skills early on.  The premise that students with smaller debt are more likely to default is counter-intuitive, and makes for good in class conversations.  I am currently in Chapter 2 of my course covering ratios, and one of the first worksheets has students converting given ratios into a comparison of two quantities, that I refer to as Thing 1 and Thing 2.

For example, the article states that only 2% of undergraduates borrow more than $50,000 per year.  The 2% is a ratio in disguise, 2 : 100, and requires care in unpacking.  The first quantity, Thing 1, is referring to undergraduates who borrow more than $50,000 a year, while the second quantity, Thing 2, is all undergraduate borrowers.  Some of you may think this is a trivial exercise, but my students struggled with question #5 on the take home quiz below.

Try it out with your own students!  Note that the first two questions refer to Joel Best’s book, Damned Lies and Statistics, which we read each week along with an article.

  1. Joel Best says that social statistics have two purposes, one public and one hidden.  What is the hidden purpose?
  1. Joel Best talks about the social construction of social problems.
    1. In what sense has the problem of student loan debt discussed in the article, Why Students with Smallest Debts Have the Larger Problem, been socially “constructed”?
    2. Why are students with smaller debt more likely to default?
  1. The Why Students with Smallest Debts Have the Larger Problem article mentions the median debt for lawyers and doctors earning degrees in 2012. Do you think the mean debt would be higher or lower?  Explain!
  1. The graphic below is from the article. The ratio of which two rates is 4:3?

 Student Loan Debt

  1. The article is chock full of percentages! In the paragraph starting: “Most borrowers have small debts, according to the Federal Reserve of NY;…” there are 5 percentages given: 43%, 72%, 34%, 3%, and 18%.  For each percentage answer the question: Percentage of what?


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