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Wonder how much debt a college puts its students in? This tool makes the investigation a breeze.

ProPublica made it easier for students to dig deep into their school's student loan problem.

Wonder how much debt a college puts its students in? This tool makes the investigation a breeze.

If you're like me, you're drowning in student loan debt.

GIF via "Bridesmaids."


One of the worst things about debt is that it can make us feel like we're all alone.

When that repayment bill comes every month. GIF via Televisa.

Well, all alone with a mound of envelopes from Sallie Mae.

But we're not alone. Student debt is a problem for so many of us. A $1.2 trillion problem to be exact.

It's tripled over the past decade to hit that number, and more than 1 in 4 former students in the United States are struggling to make their payments.

Now, thanks to an awesome new tool from ProPublica, you can see how your debt stacks up.

C'mon. You know you wanna. GIF from "Mr. Bean."

In September, the U.S. government released a huge amount of data on federal debt at American colleges and universities. To make it a little easier to navigate, ProPublica made an interactive database that you can search through to satisfy your morbid curiosity:

See how far into debt other folks are who went to the same school as you! Check out what the average debt for students is at other colleges! (Hey, it might make that rejection letter from your dream school not seem that bad after all.)

OK, but beyond morbid curiosity, this tool can be incredibly helpful:

If you're a prospective student looking at colleges, you can now research which schools are more likely to leave you in debt.

The tool also comes with an easy-to-follow guide to help you live your dreams of being a student-debt Sherlock. It helps you read between the lines to figure out how many low-income students attend schools and how much debt they leave with. You can also check if graduates are making more money than the average high school graduate in the area.

All from your computer! Photo by Christian Reimer/Flickr.

Yeah, this tool won't solve the crisis.

But investigating student debt at institutions is helping us get a clearer picture of how they are (or aren't) setting students up for a successful future.

Already, the data has been used to find that some schools with huge endowments and that Catholic universities are leaving their poorest students with the most debt.

The data from the government doesn't paint the whole picture because private debt is a huge problem, too. But this tool is making it possible to see some important trends that weren't easily recognizable before. And that's awesome.

Because knowledge is power. Whether it's earning that degree or, you know, figuring out how much money you'd spend getting that degree.

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I'm a bit of a pen snob. Even if I'm just making a list, I look for a pen that grips well, flows well, doesn't put too much or too little ink into the paper, is responsive-but-not-too-responsive to pressure, and doesn't suddenly stop working mid-stroke.

In other words, the average cheap ballpoint pen is out. (See? Snob.)

However, Oscar Ukono is making me reevaluate my pen snobbery. Because while I'm over here turning up my nose at the basic Bic, he's using them to create things like this:

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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