Student loans have become a $1 trillion problem in the popular imagination. But it wasn’t always this way.

Student debt activists mark April 25, 2012 as the day when total outstanding student loans in the U.S. hit $1 trillion. (Total outstanding student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion in the second quarter of 2012, — which includes April, — according to the Federal Reserve).

On that day, college students and others took to the streets to call attention to the ways in which student debt was affecting their ability to complete college or secure the trappings of a middle-class life once they graduate. Ever since, activists have used April 25 and the week surrounding it as an opportunity to keep a spotlight on those issues. This year, events include Twitter chats, webinars, and the announcement of a student loan help hotline.

“One trillion dollars is such a big number by itself, it really highlights the need for elected leaders to take student debt seriously not just as an issue for young people but for the economy as a whole,” said Maggie Thompson, the executive director of Generation Progress, a youth-focused activist arm of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

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