Making college more affordable must be a priority


It’s high school graduation season: A time when our young citizens look forward to a bright future -- one that might include pursuit of a college degree.

About half of Mount Anthony Union High School’s 2012 graduates went on to secondary education, according to data compiled by school officials earlier this year.

When those students graduate, many of them will be obligated to find some way to pay back student loans.

College can be an expensive proposition, and the expense certainly doesn’t end when you graduate. In fact, that’s when it kicks in. For most degree holders, graduation means "time to pay up."

The average four-year college graduate in Vermont owes $28,000 in student loans, $1,000 more than the national average.

Nationwide, student debt has tripled since 2004.

For the next several months or years those who studied for undergraduate or graduate degrees will find themselves writing out a monthly check to pay for that privileged education -- often one they struggle to afford coupled with other demands (food, housing, etc.)

Even for those college grads who land the most successful careers, the burden of student loans is one that will remain with them for quite some time into their adult lives.

There is roughly $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

It’s a sobering reality, especially for those who cannot find a way to earn a living wage right out of school.

On Monday President Barack Obama proposed the expansion of an alternative loan repayment program that will enable student loan holders to pay no more than 10 percent of their income each month.

The program would allow an additional 5 million borrowers to qualify than do now.

Obama also backed Senate legislation that further targets the issue.

"We are here today because we believe that in America, no hard-working young person should be priced out of a higher education," Obama said.

The Senate is expected to debate the legislation next week.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) supported the executive order.

"Millions of American families are struggling to repay student loans. Capping payments at no more than 10 percent of income is one way to help," said Sanders, a member of the Senate education committee, in a prepared statement.

This week, the Senate is expected to take up legislation that would let college graduates with heavy debts refinance their loans. A bill introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) aims to address college affordability.

Sanders has also proposed legislation to bring down college costs via the expansion of programs that allow high school juniors and seniors to take college-level classes and earn credit that counts toward both high school and college graduation. The bill’s co-sponsors include Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

"If we want to seriously address this problem, we must make college much more affordable," Sanders said.

A college education, or any technical or program study beyond high school, is an investment in future success. But ever-rising tuition costs and the fear of a mountain of debt can impose an insurmountable obstacle for some would-be scholars.

We hope Obama’s proposal is successful, and that the legislation Sanders has proposed will help to make college more affordable to students in Vermont and throughout the nation.

~Michelle Karas


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