But he readily admits to having misgivings about the scale of the loans he could face

Nate Clark, who runs the Career College of Northern Nevada, says the Obama administration is exaggerating the extent of bad practices in the sector.

I think it does exist at a certain level; every segment of our economy has some type of corruption going on and we need to police it, he says, but fears the education department’s probe could turn into a witch hunt.

He adds: A lot of money is going to be spent on something and not going to produce a whole lot.

Even those institutions trying to do the right thing struggle to keep students out of financial trouble. The current default rate among Mr Clark’s former pupils is 24.6 per cent, he laments, worryingly close to a 30 per cent threshold where the government can stop an institution’s students from accessing federal loans.

Pockets of crisis

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The education department has identified pockets of real crisis in student borrowing but it believes these largely exist in places where students enrol in a programme and don’t complete it, says Mr Mitchell. He stresses that college continues to be a great investment, yielding oversized returns for people who complete anything from a four-year degree to a quick diploma.

Research bears that out. David Autor, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has found that the earnings gap between the median college-educated US male and their counterpart with a high school education doubled between 1979 and 2012. The unemployment rate of Americans with a bachelors degree or higher was 2.5 per cent in January, as against 5.3 per cent for high school graduates who missed college.

As such, many Americans remain convinced the cost of a college education is worth it. Lafontant Williamson, who lives in South Carolina’s state capital Columbia, is one of them.

He says that while none of his friends are planning to go to college, he is applying for a place at university to study pharmacy, convinced that the gamble will pay off in a much higher salary than if he relied on a high school education.

I would rather be in debt for 10 years and still eventually be making money, he says. It is a scary feeling.

Presidential hopefuls seek youthful vote

Bernie Sanders, the Democratic challenger, has been particularly vocal as he courts the younger voters who helped him win the New Hampshire primary, promising to solve the problem by making tuition free at public colleges. His reforms, which have an annual $75bn price tag that would be paid for via a tax on Wall Street, have been ridiculed by the Hillary Clinton campaign as unrealistic, but Sanders supporters have tried to brush off that criticism.

For her part, Mrs Clinton has unveiled a multi-faceted college plan costing $350bn over 10 years, whose goals include ensuring that no student has to borrow money to pay tuition fees. It would also allow existing borrowers to refinance student loans at lower interest rates, a familiar feature of the mortgage market that has not reached higher education. The elements would be paid for by cutting tax deductions for some high-income individuals.

On the Republican https://worldpaydayloans.com/ side, Donald Trump has offered no detailed proposals, but has said the government should not be profiting from federal student loans. The extent to which that happens – because of the interest it charges on student loans – is contested, however, depending on accounting conventions used.

Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate who has talked most about student debt, has proposed a student investment plan to allow private investors to fund an individual’s education in return for a percentage of their income for a set period of time after graduation.