Drowning In Student Debt

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What Can be Done about America’s Looming Student Debt Crisis?

Americans have been told for decades that the gateway to a better life and higher earnings is granted by obtaining a college degree, yet the collateral damage of all this higher learning is loads and loads of potentially ruinous student debt. Why is Higher Learning so Cost Prohibitive? And where is the national outrage over the massive amount of student debt?

The rumblings around Capitol Hill are that Senator Orrin Hatch(R-Utah) will soon get his wish in a series of congressional hearings investigating the NCAA’s BCS. This comes on the heels of a decade’s worth of congressional intervention into such pressing issues as steroids in professional sports or why people cannot purchase their cable channels a la carte. These actions can be written off as political pandering at its worst, politicians seeking cheap and easy political points. Yet, if the politicians on the Hill are seeking low hanging fruit in order to inflate their image among their constituents where’s the congressional hearings on the nation’s ballooning student debt?

Surely it’d be an easy score, resonating with millions upon millions of Americans. So how come no one in congress has broached the subject?

student-loan-debt-occupy-wall-streetWith the recession entering its third year, and unemployment still hovering around nine percent, thousands of the suddenly unemployed or underemployed have gone back to school in an effort to salvage their financial future. It seems reasonable on the face of it. The American public has been indoctrinated that higher education equals higher pay. This promise of greater earnings over the course of one’s lifetime is a major selling point in countless on-line university commercials and it’s also been the primary motivation that have kept the doors of America’s 4,140 public and private institutions revolving.

America today is awash in millions of the college educated. Chances are your waiter at lunch or your postman possesses a college degree. I myself once tended bar with an individual who held a degree in mechanical engineering. Chances are they’re also drowning in a large amount of debt incurred while attending an institution of higher learning.

According to the Project on Student Debt, the average college graduate in the United States owes somewhere around $24,000. In most cases it probably exceeds that.

In my own experience, I accrued over $54,000 in debt this past year when, sick of being stuck in a dead end job, I decided to attend law school. The potential payoff may be huge, but the prospect of accruing over $160,000 in debt over the course of three years is more than enough to give one pause. It’s even more daunting when one considers the fact that, according to the National Law Journal, 40% of law school graduates will default on their student loans incurring collection fees of 29% when turned over to collection.

Why is higher education so cost prohibitive?

It’s somewhat understandable when Harvard or Princeton raises their tuition almost yearly, quickly approaching and later surpassing the $50,000 per year mark. These institutions are blessed with something akin to brand recognition, their reputation precedes them, and their graduates are virtually guaranteed a job. These universities are also largely the playground of the rich, stocked with the progeny of those who can afford the outrageous tuition rates. What’s baffling though is the cost of lesser know, regional universities. Why does it cost over $32,000 to attend Kalamazoo College in Michigan? Where does Simmons get off charging $30,000?

The semi-annual raises in tuition rates seem to be done arbitrarily at most universities, particularly private institutions. There’s little rhyme or reason as to why, according to most financial sources, college tuition rates rise at nearly twice the rate of inflation in the United States. The question I have is where is the great outcry?

Where is the outrage when Harvard raises its tuition by 3.8% simply because Yale did?

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators participating in a street-theater production wear signs around their neck representing their student debt during a protest against the rising national student debt in Union Square, in New YorkMillions of Americans are being saddled with thousands upon thousands in debt that they cannot afford and no one seems to really be batting an eye, least of all those on Capitol Hill. It’s met with a collective shrug of the shoulders even as we’re becoming a nation of the educated poor. Those that are lucky enough to find a job are stuck paying back loans incurred in their younger years at absurdly high interest rates, we’re in the red well before we’ve even attained employment. Worse yet, even if you cannot find a job, or one that pays high enough, your student debt cannot be discharged when you’re inevitably forced to file for bankruptcy.

Why is it acceptable that the average tuition rate per year is quickly surpassing the average salary in America?

Last year, the government took it upon itself to take on the healthcare industry under the auspices that it was something that touched upon a majority of Americans. While I am no advocate of government intervention, I wouldn’t mind seeing congress similarly address the rising cost of higher education. At the very least, it’d be nice to know why a degree in political economy, whatever that is, costs a staggering $120,000 when it’s all said and done.

Sheryl Yates is a senior contributor for the Claremont Institute and also works as freelance blogger. Sheryl can be contacted for similar writing projects, please make sure to fill out the contact form with her name included.