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Denise had no idea her student loans could be erased. In 2007, a truck rear-ended her car. The accident ravaged her legs and back, and the pain made it impossible for her to work.

"I have basically been in pain — chronic pain — every day," says Denise, who asked that NPR not use her full name to protect her privacy. "I live a life of going to doctors constantly."

The Old Main building at Wayne State University
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Starting next year, high school graduates in Detroit can receive free college tuition if they choose to attend Wayne State University.

The “Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge” covers scholarships for city residents who have applied for federal student aid. The university estimates more than 49,000 students enrolled in Detroit public schools are eligible for the program. Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson says the school has multiple funding sources for the pledge.

A new report from a government watchdog, first obtained by NPR, says an expanded effort by Congress to forgive the student loans of public servants is remarkably unforgiving.

Congress created the expansion program last year in response to a growing outcry. Thousands of borrowers — nurses, teachers and other public servants — complained that the requirements for the original program were so rigid and poorly communicated that lawmakers needed to step in. But, documents show, even this expansion of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program isn't working.

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Michigan college grads are borrowing 42% more on average than they were 10 years ago. Today, your average Michigan student with school loans has about $31,000 in debt, compared to roughly $21,600 a decade earlier.

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Student loans help millions get their college degrees.

But critics say our rigid, outdated system for paying back those loans is causing too many people to fall behind or default. 

People borrow for higher education all over the world. Who's doing it better and how?

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More than 460 Michigan college students who say they have been defrauded by their for-profit schools filed federal claims this year to try to get their student loans forgiven. But the Trump administration has not approved any so-called borrower defense claims yet.

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A college education is getting more expensive in the state of Michigan.

Last month, many Michigan colleges and universities approved tuition increases for this fall.  And starting today, interest rates on federally backed student loans are rising too.  

Interest rates on loans for undergrads are rising from 3.76% to 4.45%.   Overtime, that increase will add hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, to the cost of getting a degree.