Editorial: The debt of college education

Originally published in the Oct. 8, 2013 print edition of the Sac City Express

Sac City College, Daniel Wilson, student loan debt

Editorial cartoon by Brentino.

Student loan debt probably isn’t as common among community college students as with University of California or California State University students, and those who do carry debt most likely owe a lot less money than upper division students.

However, a great many students at City College will eventually move on to pursue bachelor’s or higher degrees and will take on heaps of debt—that is, unless they are fortunate enough to score a sweet, sweet scholarship or two or three.

Ask any student or parent who is paying for someone’s college education: Something needs to be done to make obtaining an education less expensive.

In fact, for most people, facing the inevitable amounts of money they’ll need to pay back for their oh-so-coveted higher educations is something that weighs on one’s conscience throughout their college careers.

But no matter how much we would like the threat of student debt to make like brick-and-mortar Blockbuster stores and disappear, it’s more like Cher in that it just won’t go away. The solution seems simple: Make college less expensive by cutting all the extras. Just charge for classes and books unless students opt to pay for other things like dorm space.

The fact of the matter is, though, that running a university costs a lot of money, and some of that cost is ultimately passed on to students who attend the institution, which is understandable. But accepting this reality doesn’t make the issue any less of a problem.

The cost of community college classes skyrocketed to $46 per unit at City College over the last few years. In addition, Politico.com reported, the federal student loan debt (including private bank loans) hit $1.2 trillion in July.

But good news came in the form of an announcement last January from Board of Regents member Sherry Lansing that a UC tuition increase would be “off the table” for 2013-2014, as opposed to the increases that occurred between 2006 and 2011, according to an article published by SFGate.

As optimistic as that may sound, the cost of going to a four-year college is on average $7,135 per academic year in the United States, according to collegecost.ed.gov.

Here in California, that average is blown out of the water with the highest priced UC, our neighbor in Davis, which ranks in with the ninth-highest tuition cost in the nation for public four-year colleges, setting students back $13,860 per academic year.

And if students take out federal loans to pay for tuition, interest is added on top of the already outrageous bill. As of July 1, federal loan interest rates stand at anywhere from 3.86 percent to 6.41 percent depending on the type of federal loan, according to studentaid.ed.gov.

On top of these ridiculously high rates and costs for upper division college, if one falls into a hardship or has difficulty finding a job within the six month grace period following graduation,

Current laws make it extremely difficult to receive assistance with managing payments, refinancing rates or in extreme cases, getting debt wiped clear.

According to Student Loan Borrower Assistant, “Student loans are difficult, but not impossible, to discharge in bankruptcy. To do so, you must show that payment of the debt ‘will impose an undue hardship on you and your dependents.’ ”

Successfully filing for bankruptcy in regards to a student loan is a hard-fought battle, but even if you manage to accomplish this, bankruptcies stay on your credit record for up to 10 years and can cause all sorts of other problems.

And while many ideas, plans and proposals are floating around to help those with high amounts of debt, such as the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act, which, according to www.credit.com, was introduced in June by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and would allow students carrying certain types of federal loan debt to drop interest rates to 4 percent, a universally acceptable solution has not been found.

Higher education is a valuable asset to those who are pursuing degrees, but as it stands, the U.S. federal and state governments aren’t making the ability to obtain degrees a high enough priority. History shows that attitudes about education spending have dramatically changed in the last three decades; just consider that community college courses were free a few decades ago.

Considering that so many employers see having a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement for employment, and the importance of the skills, abilities and knowledge that come along with a higher education, government officials need to start treating education as an essential aspect of one’s life as opposed to an easy-to-cut item on a budget report in times of financial desperation.

About Daniel Wilson

Daniel has been a writer for over 25 years and recently earned his Bachelor's degree in journalism. Portfolio: www.dwilsonjourno.com.
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