Higher education, higher debt

In putting politics aside, everyone can agree that today’s college student is being forced to come out of pocket and take out far too many loans for higher education. In an effort to aleviate that burden, President Barack Obama recently released the “Pay as You Earn” student debt reform proposal, allowing students to repay student loans in increments of 10 percent of how much money they earn.

Now, the “Pay as You Earn” proposal is not without its fair share of flaws, but it addresses a critical issue for today’s youth.

The national average student debt for students who graduated in 2011 is currently at $24,000 — more than $26,000 for Grand Valley State University students — and the nation’s total student debt burden is expected to exceed $1 trillion by the end of the year.

That’s a significant amount of money, especially for a country facing a recession, a floundering job market and an increasing number of recent graduates who are either unemployed or underemployed after receiving their degrees. About 85 percent of students who graduated in May of 2011 went back home to live with their parents after graduation, and it’s no surprise why when the unemployment rate for people of ages 20 to 24 is at 15 percent nationally.

When the economy relies on American citizens, particularly today’s youth, pumping money into it, it doesn’t take an economist to know that shackling graduates with excessive student debt is a bad idea.

Yes, there are some flaws in the proposal, and yes, it ignores some of the underlying causes. However, Obama’s attempt to address the growing amount of debt students face is a commendable one, and necessary. Scholarships and grants are always good options for many students, but not everyone has the fortune to be able to secure them, and those who can are rarely awarded enough to cover tuition, housing and the many other costs that students incur. Even GVSU’s most generous single scholarship, the Presidential Scholarship, maxes out at $7,000, far less than the $9,716 price tag on one semester of lower-division tuition.

Without addressing the soaring cost of college and the ways that students are paying these costs back, today’s graduates will have little opportunity to move forward and prosper on their own.