Student loan debt is fundamentally different than all other types of consumer debt. If someone buys a car with a loan and then loses their job, they can sell the car and use the proceeds to pay at least some of the loan down. That can’t happen with a student loan: the asset that the loan paid for is (ostensibly) knowledge, and that can’t be repossessed by a University or sold secondhand. Student loans are also almost impossible to discharge in a bankruptcy, and interest starts accruing on some types of student loans even while the borrower is in school.
But what caused the student loan debt load to get to the level of “crisis” in the United States? In cursory depictions of the student loan situation, many of the same explanations for the sharp increase in the cost of postsecondary education are often offered, from the pedestrian (“University campuses look like the palace of Versailles these days!”, “College kids are majoring in underwater basketweaving!”) to the conspiratorial (the endowments of the most prestigious universities are essentially hedge funds, and by charging tuition that isn’t generally affordable, universities can provide generous financial aid and maintain charity status for their endowment gains). But rapidly rising costs don’t necessarily create bubbles or crises. That the cost of tuition rises doesn’t mean that it must be unaffordable relative to earlier periods, per se.