http://higheredwatch.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/program_pages/attachments/underminingpell.jpgBy Ben Miller. The most popular number in higher education today is $1 trillion—the total amount of outstanding student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It’s big and scary; the size of figure we're more used to seeing attached to wars and national budgets, and easily encapsulates a broadly held sense that college is unaffordable for all but the wealthiest families. Not surprisingly, the figure is ubiquitous in the media,  producing alarming charts, such as this one from a piece in Mother Jones about different plans to deal with student loan interest rates. There’s just one problem—the number isn’t necessarily the boogeyman it’s made out to be. That’s because the $1 trillion loan balance is an aggregate number. It just so happens that at the same time studnet loan debt was expanding, so too was enrollment in higher education. As the chart below shows, from 2000 to 2011, fall enrollment in higher education increased by 6.2 million students. (From 2003, the first year in the chart above, to 2011 it grew by 4.5 million). Read more...