New stunt show latest sign that student debt is firmly in the cultural zeitgeist

What do a comedy game show, the Super Bowl, and a PTO plan all have in common? Student debt relief. The struggle to pay off student loan debt has become so pervasive that it is inspiring TV showrunners, advertisers, and employers to create unconventional solutions, writes MarketWatch.

Game shows focusing on awareness—and erasing contestants’ debt

Comedy website CollegeHumor recently launched a new web series called Total Forgiveness, in which two 30-somethings complete extreme stunts of increasing intensity to pay off their student loans. The challenges range from physical (leechings) to emotional (public readings of private diaries) and increase in both difficulty and reward as the show goes on, starting at a $500 prize and ending at a $10,000 prize. The show’s hosts/contestants, Grant O’Brien and Ally Beardsley, say they hope the series not only entertains but also raises awareness of the national student debt problem, and helps inspires policy change.

Related: New game show seeks to raise awareness of student debt crisis

The show, no matter how hyperbolic, taps into a cultural zeitgeist, writes MarketWatch. It comes on the heels of TruTV’s trivia game show Paid Off, in which contestants tested their knowledge in order to win money to pay down their student loan debt. The network recently ordered additional episodes of the show. Advertisers have taken note, too: Beer company Natural Light used its coveted Super Bowl slot to advertise a student loan assistance program in both 2018 and 2019.

Unum’s PTO-swap program a new kind of perk

Some companies are also using debt relief programs to recruit and retain workers, as student loan debt reaches all-time highs.

Unum Group, an insurance company with 8,500 employees, recently announced that starting in 2020, employees may choose to forego up to five of their 28 PTO days, and the company will put the full value of those days toward loans held by the employee and/or co-held by the employee’s children. MarketWatch reports that the average Unum employee carries $32,000 in debt; the new policy, which Unum predicts 30 percent of its workforce will use, could provide employees with an average of $1,200 toward their debt.

While Fox Business calls the PTO policy “a first-of-its-kind perk,” Unum is not alone in addressing employees’ student loan debt. According to Bloomberg, around 4 percent of large companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resources Management reported making cash payments of up to $250 a month to assist employees with student debt relief.

Topics in this story

Next Up

Study links student loan borrowing to academic success in community college

Adding some nuance to the national conversation about student loan debt, a new study finds that students attending community college who are offered and take out loans may actually be setting themselves up for success.