Here’s what the student loan situation currently looks like for many education-seeking Americans: DEBT.
Student loan debt. Now that’s a topic that’s (too) often on the minds of countless parents, students, recent college graduates, and not-so-recent college graduates in the U.S.. The financial inaccessibility of education is a problem that many teenagers and their families have to grapple with before their college decisions are made each and every year.
There’s ample reason for families to feel frustrated by the student loan industry in the United States. After mortgages, student debt is the second largest form of consumer debt, as students now have collectively taken on a whopping 1.2 TRILLION dollars of debt in order to fund their educations–1 trillion of which is completely in federal loans. So, why is this a problem? I think that’s more than obvious.
An important thing to remember about federal loans is that they are backed both by federal banks and the Department of Education. In other words, these loans are insured by the government and its taxpayers; so the public is essentially is made responsible for collecting on borrowed due in case of students defaulting on their payments. It’s probably worth mentioning, especially now, that approximately 11.1% of student borrowers are currently in default status.
Fortunately, this topic is (slowly) becoming more of a hot-button issue in politics as of late, or at least it seems to be getting a bit more attention from the public and the media than it has in years previous. At the federal level, just last July, Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bipartisan bill called the Dynamic Repayment Act, which proposed to reorganize the manner in which students repay their federal student loans, specifically by deducting 10% from their paychecks each month (similar to tax withholding) and allowing up to $57,500 to be forgiven after 10 years of repayment. Unfortunately, this bill died in committee shortly after its proposal. So there’s that thwarted attempt at progress.
However, back in 2009, President Obama set a goal that, by 2020, America would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world–and he has actually taken a lot of initiative in working to make this happen. Along with his recent proposal to Congress to make the first two years of community college free, in March of 2010 he signed into law a new student loan repayment plan that took effect in 2014. This repayment plan limits loan payments to 10% of the borrowers income and forgives whatever amount is left to be repaid after 20 years, or 10 years for those who choose to work in public service.
The reality is, not every student has parents or family members that are able or willing to pay for their tuition and living expenses while they’re in college; in fact, many, many of them do not. While it’s great that attention is being called to this very present and pressing issue, and many efforts are being proposed and (kind of) pursued that would make higher education more accessible to many in America, we are still a long way from solving this problem.
In the meantime, students are in a sticky position. We (I say we, because I’m one of them) are being told that a college education is absolutely necessary to compete in, or contribute anything to, our nation’s economic future. And the data seems to validate that. There’s no denying that higher education is essential to our progress, both as individuals with life aspirations, and as a nation full of young people who are looking for a way to take part in the future. Yet, despite the choice to invest in higher education, many college graduates are struggling to find jobs after graduating, meanwhile awaiting the end of their 6-month grace period before they must begin making loan re-payments. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that approximately 48% of recent college graduates are working jobs for which they are over-qualified.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has also spoken on this issue, mostly to empathize with the challenges that college students and recent graduates face as a result of being saddled with student debt. “Millions of young people are just stuck,” Warren said. “They can’t buy homes, they can’t buy cars…all because they are struggling under the weight of student loan debt.” Warren proposed a bill earlier this year that would have allowed students to refinance their student loans, but her efforts were blocked by Senate Republicans.