Student debt alarming

Published 11:26 am Friday, March 23, 2012

The rise in student loan debt is alarming and needs to be addressed by state and federal governments.

Not only do rising tuition costs prevent many smart people from attending college, the overwhelming amount of debt that straddles the young men and women who actually make it through college prevents them from contributing to a better economy.

The more student debt they have to pay off after college means they will not buy big-ticket items sooner: new car, new house, investments, computers, vacations and the like. It make them scale back on purchases: cheaper, less-healthy groceries, less-expensive clothing, fewer nights at the movies and so on. They also look for deals on the Internet, rather than shopping local. Then people wonder why stores close.

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And if you think student loans are only a small segment of the loan market, think again. There is more student loan debt in America than credit card debt. There is more student loan debt in America than automobile loan debt.

A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Monday said as many as one in four borrowers now carries a past-due student loan balance. And the rate goes up the younger the borrowers are. Forty percent of borrowers under 30 have outstanding student loan debt.

The delinquency rate is alarmingly higher than a previous measure that found about 15 percent. And it is higher than the assumed norm of delinquency for most types of debt, about 10 percent.

There indeed are repercussions locally of strapping young men and women with so much college debt, but there are repercussions globally, too. Some say graduates seek careers in professions where they can pay the rising costs of college tuition faster, rather than careers of what they want to do. An example might be going into finance rather than teaching. These choices hurt America’s standing in the global marketplace.

What can state and federal governments do? They can curtail rising tuition rates at public universities. They can bolster grant programs, especially the kind that benefit students who get closer to graduation. They can hold the line down on student loan interest rates, such as Stafford loans. They can require public colleges and universities to provide better guidance to students to ensure that the classes they are about to take are related to what they want to go into as a career, cutting down on dropouts (who get saddled with debt without the benefit of a degree) and long-term undecided students. They can create sensible debt relief programs. They can better fund colleges and universities in the first place.

All these types of measures would benefit the economy on a local and national scale. Big banks got a bailout. How about we get around to helping the folks trying the climb the ladder, rather than helping the ones already at the top?

—Albert Lea Tribune