As the door closes on another week of higher-education news, we pause to peek through the keyhole a final time.
Like herpes or an annoying house guest, the issue of the horrible burden of student loan debt simply won't go away.
Already economically hard-hit Michigan is feeling the strain of what this debt is doing to the young folks. "More West Michigan residents are defaulting on student loans," an October 28, 2011 MLive.com article reports. "As Michigan's economy soured and recent graduates failed to find jobs, defaults grew at colleges and universities across the state — including Muskegon Community College and Baker College of Muskegon, according to federal education data released last month."
This has served simply to expand the morass of financial insolvency in which The Wolverine State is mired. "Growing default rates show the extent of which former students are struggling to pay off student debt, which has grown to monumental proportions in recent years," the MLive.com article continues. "And because student loans can't be written-off in bankruptcy court, the debt weighs on borrowers for years, eroding their financial credibility as they struggle to emerge from debt."
Aiding debtors in their struggle appears a priority among politicians these days, particularly those with their eyes on the 2012 presidential election. Of course, "aid" is a relative notion, and some statesmen like Republican candidate Ron Paul definite take the "less is more" approach to problems. In the case of student financial aid "less" means "nothing at all" in the long run. Paul announced publicly earlier this week that "he would “eventually” abolish federal aid for education," were he elected president, a October 28, 2011 Politico article reports. "'In my budget, Social Security, Medicare, — and yes, student loans — are not cut in any way for those currently receiving such services or for those who will be in the near future,'” the article quotes Paul as saying. Rather, "in the longer term, when the economy is healthy enough," President Paul "would begin a transition to ending federal student aid, which ... would help alleviate the 'staggering' problem of student loans." Being of a libertarian bent, however, Paul sees the problem not as that of excessive debt, but that of the presumptuousness on the part of the federal government to function as creditor on this debt.
This distinction was not lost on one reader of The Wisconsin State Journal, who in an October 28, 2011 letter to the editoroffered his analysis of the student loan situation. "Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is calling for an end to the federal student loan program, saying the program (or more specifically, government) is responsible for soaring tuition costs," he writes. "I like Paul on many of his positions, but he is dead wrong on this one."
In the reader's assessment, the problem lies with declining subsidies froms state legislators to public universities. This has forced the latter to dramatically increase their tuition rates, sometimes as much as by a multiple of ten. This has made the age-old alternative to loans impossible at the level of income realized by most workers in their late teens and early 20s. "The sad reality is that most 18-year-olds are going to be working for minimum wage," the reader continues. "It's nearly impossible for someone to 'work" their way through school today without needing loans and a lot of money from their parents."
An October 28, 2011 PolicyMic.com post serves up some hard figures to support the objections made in the Wisconsin State Journal opinion piece:
While in 1980 the cost of a college education for lowest-income families was 13% of all expenses, today it is 25% for the same economic bracket. Although prices on all commodities have risen significantly since the 1980s, family incomes have not. Likewise, in just five years, (2000-2005) the average price tag for one year of private university education rose $15,000 (from $21,235, or 40%). Income levels in the same period only rose 4%.
Such staggering numbers certainly augur ill for the continued economic viability of the U.S. Some radical cure is definitely needed — across-the-board debt forgiveness or a slashing of interest rates to something approaching the rates before the George W. Bush administration. No matter whether students choose to attend Vanderbilt or University of Phoenix, they should have the opportunity to make a start in life without an onerous burden on their shoulders.