The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 24, 2013

Student loan fix shouldn’t require huge political battle

College is a time when young men and women hit the books to prepare themselves to enter the workforce in their chosen profession.

College-level math and science and literature are tough courses.

But one subject in which today’s college graduates do face big worries is the debt that they take out into the “real world” upon receiving their diploma. The collegiate years mean dollars and cents start to add up over the course of four or more years.

Those who haven’t given the subject much thought in recent years would probably be surprised to know that the average debt for a West Virginia student today is $22,000. That figure may fluctuate some, depending upon the college or university. Students graduating from some of the more expensive private colleges may face a debt twice that high. Those getting diplomas from some of the smaller schools probably face a smaller debt.

But $22,000 is a sizeable chunk of money for most young people, and depending on how long it takes them to get a job, it may be quite a while before that bill is paid in full. When private loans are included, the figures increase to about $25,000 to $27,000.

What is really shocking is the debt compiled by many graduate students, a group that includes professional people such as doctors and lawyers. They often leave their programs with more than $100,000 in debt.

Fortunately, many colleges and universities offer professional counseling and financial-aid classes to graduating students. The total debt comes as a shock to many students, and universities are wise in preparing them for such a shock.

But there’s a showdown now in Washington, D.C., over student loan debt and, in particular, the interest rates that will accrue over the lifetime of the debt. On Thursday, the House passed a bill that would stop student loan interest rates from doubling on July 1 by tying rates to market trends and ending federal subsidies. It’s obviously a partisan bill, as it passed 221 to 198, and who knows what will happen when it comes to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where party leaders have voiced their opposition to the House bill.

Trying to fix a broken student loan system shouldn’t have to be a standoff. We’re not saying that either party’s platform on the issue is right. All we’re saying is that we, along with our readership and the rest of America, are tired of being the collateral damage in a war between Democrats and Republicans. We saw this happen with sequestration and the massive across-the-board budget cuts instead of a fine-tuned balanced budget.

Do kids who rely on student loans to pay for higher education need to suffer because no one seems capable of crossing the aisle and working together to fix what’s broken?

Young professionals trying to make it in the world will probably have to resort to their old college habits of eating soup from a can, counting quarters from couch cushions and taking on several roommates in order to make it in the world with massive debts and compiling interest as soon as they receive their diploma.

This is a time when graduates should be investing in 401Ks, buying cars and houses, starting families and helping to build back the American economy.

Put politics aside and make effective change for everyone’s sake.

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