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Student loans can be one of the most important aspects of financing college life. The ever-increasing price of higher education, coupled with the anxiety of entering a job market undercut by one of the largest recessions in history, can be a daunting predicament. Tack on thousands of dollars in burdensome student loan debt and you have fashioned a truly dire situation, which millions of Americans find themselves in daily.
And if the government doesn’t get its act together, students’ stress over loan debt could get much worse.
The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, passed by Congress in 2007, lowered interest rates on federal student loan debt from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. It expires July 1, and for 7.4 million students this will mean a sudden doubling of rates — a scenario that those already struggling to pay for college can’t afford to deal with. It seems that some members of Congress want to acknowledge the issue, and have put together a bill to freeze interest rates at their current 3.4 percent level — one of the few examples of cooperation in the cesspool of partisan squabbling that is Congress. The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by 139 lawmakers, has been put forth in the House of Representatives. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) supports the legislation, and noted in a recent statement that “the burden of student loan debt is all too real.” This editorial board commends Hoyer and encourages all members of this state’s delegation to support the freezing of interest rates on student loans.
But the feelings of friendship and camaraderie surrounding student loan debt in Washington seem to end with this bill.
President Barack Obama’s three-university tour, warning students about the consequences of a failure to freeze interest rates, drew heavy criticism from Republicans, who said the president is using election-year speeches to cater to a demographic that gave him more than 65 percent of the vote four years ago. While the president had to realize speaking on this issue would only help bolster his already-stellar numbers with young voters, Obama’s message is an important one, especially given the sobering truths about student loan debt in America.
Last year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, student loan debt increased $117 billion, to a record level of $1 trillion — a figure that surpasses national credit card debt. At this university, recent data indicates that graduates of the class of 2010 left the campus with an average of more than $22,000 in collective debt.
The 43 percent of 2010 university graduates who have firsthand experience with the struggles of owing student loan debt understand that while skyrocketing debt figures are troubling, even more worrisome is the ever-expanding cost of a college education.
Granted, college tuition does not simply buy you a diploma. It buys you tickets to see a 2-10 football team. It buys you a few hours on the racquetball courts. It buys you a nicely groomed Washington Quad to lay out and tan on.
After four years of undergraduate study, however, some people still feel the need to continue their education, even with their free athletics tickets and posh dining halls.
Graduate schools and their high price tags only exacerbate the already troubling debt crisis. Yet directly after the recession’s harsh beginnings in 2008, graduate school applications rose more than 8 percent. The American game plan of going to college and “making it” seems to have been stretched out into a grad school overtime. Today, however, fewer and fewer can make it to graduate school at its current price points, both private and public.
The Obama administration and members of Congress have seen that student loan debt is a problem that cannot be bogged down like other partisan issues, but the price of a college education is truly the crux of the matter. Decreasing costs must be a priority of state and federal lawmakers alike, working with both public and private institutions to ensure affordability for all. Politicians, such as Hoyer, are on the right track.
Then, though it seems unlikely, we might actually have an American collegiate system where, after four years, the diploma students work hard for might actually be worth it — even if filet mignon isn’t on the diner’s lunch menu.
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