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Enough debt is enough

Federal neglect and poorly structured budgets have led to increased student debt


The cost of going to college has become monstrous, dominating the current generation of students like never before. Much of the blame for this growing debt can be laid at the feet of the federal and state governments, though universities haven't helped the situation much.

There is no real escape from the debt. Forty eight percent of UB students have taken out loans to get through school. Gone are the days when college could be paid for by working a part-time job during the semester. Costs have skyrocketed beyond affordability.

The causes are complicated. It would be childish to decry just one factor as the reason why college costs have increased so much in recent years.

And the costs have increased exponentially. Non-profit, four-year private institutions increased total average costs from $30,664 in real dollars in 2000-01 to $42,419 for 2014-2015.

And that’s just average.

There also remains a massive disparity in sticker price, or what a college advertises its costs as, and what students end up paying. Private colleges across the board have sticker prices of about $50,000 per year. While collegiate officials say the burden falls the heaviest on richer students, a recent University of Chicago paper found that 70 percent of the profit from price discrimination went directly to the universities instead of poorer students.

Why?

Decreasing federal aid for poorer students has caused a sharp decline in financial aid. Federal Perkins Loans were created in the ’90s to help low socioeconomic status students attend college. The Perkins system has not been updated since its creation. Loan amounts, both yearly and capped totals, are still tied to tuition rates from the ’90s. Costs have tripled at some schools since the Perkin Loan legislation was passed.

Does it come as any surprise then that a poorer student looks at a $50,000 a year price tag and assumes that such an education far exceeds their ability to pay for it?

Part of the problem comes from a lack of options. It is ingrained in people of the United States that you have to go to college to succeed – and to a degree the reality reflects that. A bachelor's degree earned full-time workers 60 percent more than workers with just a high school degree in 2012. Yet more and more Americans who attend college are defaulting on their loans, especially loans from for-profit colleges. Furthermore, while increased college attendance helps bring more money in, the increased strain on housing and facilities has ballooned costs. Exorbitant spending by many colleges hasn't helped either.

A comparison of the German educational system to the United States' provides a few suggestions, though no system will transfer carte blanche from country to country. German education tracks students at a much earlier age. Invigorating non-college options will ease structural loads across the board. A higher trained lower/middle class will find jobs and contribute economically more than a series of college dropouts and uninspired graduates. Additionally, easing the cost of colleges would render those who want to get into higher education to do so without fears of crippling debt.

Secondary education has become a checkpoint for life in the United States instead of an option. Requiring a bachelor's degree for menial jobs accomplishes nothing.

It's time for options in life instead of crippling debt.

The editorial board can be reached at editorial@ubspectrum.com.


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