A new study of government data shows, “Colorado borrowers owe more than $26 billion in student debt,” according to a new study by Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC).

It found student debt in Colorado grew by 176 percent from 2007 to 2017, and the student loan debt crisis affects 733,700 Coloradans.

“There tends to be the misconception that student debt is a new problem, it’s only a problem for young people, and current college students,” said Charley Olena, Advocacy Director of New Era Colorado, a progressive organization that promoted the study. “This problem is much bigger than this generation. So, the fastest growing demographic for taking on student debt is actually older Americans. So folks over 50.”

Recently, student loan debt has been spotlighted by at the state and national level. Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) addressed the issue in his first State of the State address saying,

“We can lessen this burden by bringing more transparency to the student-loan process and providing basic consumer protection for borrowers.”

That reflects the mission of New Era Colorado and the SBPC, both of who want to address the lack of oversight surrounding the trillion dollar student loan debt industry.

In an interview, Olena said,

“Servicers can be tricky to deal with. There was a federal study that found that 70 percent of borrowers who were delinquent or who had defaulted on their loans, actually would have been eligible for an Income Driven Repayment Program that would have helped them avoid that default.”

The student debt crisis in Colorado is a growing problem due to a dysfunctional loan system that preys on the uninformed borrower, according to Olena.

She added that many people look at student debt as different than other forms of debt, but there is no reason it should be treated differently.

“Loan servicers are, largely, a completely unregulated market,” Olena says, “You know, student loan debt is the only kind of debt you can’t discharge in bankruptcy.”

Currently, New Era Colorado is working with Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder) and Sen. Faith Winters (D-Westminster) to pass new legislation to address this issue during the first legislative session this year.

The proposed bills aim to bring light to student loan processes, oversee student loan servicers, and provide trustworthy information through the Colorado Attorney General’s office.