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Win a Game Show, Pay Off Your Student Debt

Mounting a gameshow with winners and losers to highlight the inequities of education economics is “a weird space,” Torpey said. And he milks the weirdness for all its worth. In the season’s second episode, the runner-up says goodbye to the audience by putting a green oven mitt on his right hand and following instructions to flick off Congress. The young man obliges and holds up the mitt. “You know what he’s doing under there!” Topey says, as the audience laughs and applauds. “You know what he’s doing!”

In the last decade, total student loans have more than doubled from about $600 billion to nearly $1.4 trillion. It is a uniquely American problem. In several European countries—including Germany, Finland, and Norway—public institutions offer free tuition. In Canada and Japan, the annual cost of a year’s education at a public college or university is at least 50 percent less than in the U.S. In the worst cases, poorly regulated for-profit institutions hoovered up student loans in exchange for an “education” that empirically offered no average benefit to students. But even in the best cases—college is, historically and overall, a profitable investment—student debt is rising faster than graduate wages.

But national attention to the issue has been inconsistent. Torpey acknowledged that the show stands on the shoulders of the Occupy movement, which yelled, marched, and camped under banners of startling statistics about student debt. In 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders made “Free College” a core part of his campaign platform. But Trump’s scandals, and a steadily improving economy, have more recently diverted attention from the issue.

The show craftily skewers the system that lured its contestants into debt, intermixing questions about Beyoncé and condoms with earnest facts about the moral blight of for-profit colleges. But despite its good intentions,

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