The Free Press, Mankato, MN


December 18, 2006

Our View -- Students need debt relief

After years of skyrocketing tuition and hikes in interest rates on many loans, college students are graduating with ever higher debt loads, often with high interest rates on the repayments.

The trend needs to be reversed quickly and it will take action by both the state Legislature and Congress.

Fortunately, incoming lawmakers in St. Paul and Washington, D.C., seem aware of the depth of the problem and willing to tackle it.

Graduating from college with some debt is appropriate. Post-secondary education is a good investment, with graduates consistently earning significantly higher wages throughout their lives than non-graduates.

But the debt load is climbing, with a typical undergraduate borrowing $17,500 by the time he or she finishes four years. Minnesota students’ average debt is even higher at $20,560.

Democraict leaders poised to take control of Congress say they’d like to cut the interest rate on student loans in half. The measure would save nearly $6,000 for the average student by dropping the interest rate from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent.

The move would cost about $18 billion over five years, money congressional leaders say they will find by returning to pay-as-you-go rules that cut overall government spending and by ending subsidies to large oil companies.

The reduction in loan interest rates is part of the solution, increasing Pell Grants to students is also necessary. The grant program has been trimmed over the years and needs to be restored.

On the state level, lawmakers have a variety of ideas, including increasing funding to colleges and universities, with a related limit on how much colleges can increase their tuition each year.

The state has retreated too far on its commitment to higher education. The state once paid about 60 percent of college costs, but now are covering closer to only 40 percent, driving tuition costs up, often by double digit increases.

Making college affordable to middle class families is an issue that touches nearly everyone. Affordable post-secondary education — be it two-year technical training or four-year university degrees — not only helps families but businesses and the state’s economy and tax base.

Lawmakers on the state and national levels need to keep the promises they are making to make college a reality for more people without students assuming crippling debt.

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