Anna Martina writes for the Martin Center about one good tool for attacking the problem of college student loan debt.

Student loan debt has received more attention lately, but one aspect has been left out of the debate: parents taking on loans for their children.

While undergraduate students generally can only borrow $12,500 each year, Parent PLUS loans have no such limits. This is the first year that the U.S. Department of Education has shared data on the amount of debt that parents have acquired through their PLUS loans.

The data isn’t pretty, either. Currently, over 3.6 million Americans carry PLUS loan burdens.

Despite their higher interest rates, origination fees, and a growing default rate, parents are still taking out PLUS loans. Like the single mom in Alabama who wanted her daughter to attend college, most take on this debt with the hopes that their children will have successful futures. However, many parents are stuck with debt, and their children don’t earn a degree. Rather than acting as a leg up for families that are struggling, Parent PLUS loans add yet another burden to the young and the old.

In 1989-1990, only 4 percent of undergrads had Parent PLUS loans paying for their education, according to the Department of Education. By 1999-2000, 12 percent did—and by 2011-2012, 20 percent did. As the percentage of PLUS loan borrowers increased, so did the default rate.

The government has failed to reform the Parent PLUS program in recent years despite the numerous reports and recommendations that show its negative consequences. Universities keep promoting PLUS loans as a prominent financial aid program, and many parents borrowing for their children do not know the difficulty those loans may be to pay off. …

… The lack of more complete information about loans provided by schools like NC State, UNC-Wilmington, and North Carolina Central makes it clear that they want to ensure students can get loans to attend. Making sure that students will have manageable amounts of debt, however, is an afterthought.