Student-loan debt roils higher education in US and burdens graduates

The $1.3 trillion figure is certainly a shock to the senses – especially because it represents the amount of debt carried by college graduates. For bachelor’s degree-holders, the average unpaid loan is $35,000, a $19,000-plus increase from a decade ago.

Add to those eye-opening facts the reality that 70 percent of graduates will seek work with some level of debt, and it becomes clear that action is urgently needed to address this growing problem.

As the top story on the front page of Monday’s Vindicator made clear, it’s a national problem that needs to be fixed in Washington and in the state capitals.

“There is no magic bullet that is going to solve this other than the federal and state governments investing more,” said Mark Kantrowitz of, an informational source for students and parents looking to plan and pay for college. “This is an investment in the future of the country.”

To be sure, a college education is essential in the global economy. A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that individuals with a bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate of 4 percent – it was lower for post-graduate degree-holders – compared with 7.5 percent for those with a high-school diploma.

Numerous studies have also shown that college graduates earn more than nongraduates.


But the benefits of attending college and graduating – the average six years it takes for a student to earn a bachelor’s degree is a blot on higher education – are tempered by the reality of student-loan debt.

A graphic that accompanied The Vindicator story listed ways of reducing the financial burden. The one that stood out was this: Borrow federal first because federal student loans are cheaper, more available and have better repayment terms.

But as in all things Washington, maneuvering through the maze of federal regulations is a challenge.

Hence, we applaud President Barack Obama, who unveiled a plan Monday to make it easier than ever before to apply for and access federal grants and loans.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid program – FAFSA – has undergone several changes in the seven years Obama has been in office, a reflection of his commitment to enable families to not only take advantage of the grants and loans, but to do so quickly.

For instance, the administration revamped the online form so applicants can skip questions that are not relevant to them. In addition, 6 million students and parents took advantage of the ability to retrieve their income information from the IRS when completing their 2014-2015 FAFSA.

The latest initiative announced by the president will allow students and families to apply for federal financial aid starting in October, when the college application process gets underway, rather than in January.

This is designed to give applicants the ability to determine the true cost of attending college – taking available financial aid into account.

Underlying problem

But, even with the changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid program, the underlying problem with higher education remains. The cost keeps going up, while the availability of jobs for new graduates remains a challenge.

In the absence of clear-cut answers, what is a student or parent to do?

One suggestion appeared on the graphic that accompanied Monday’s front-page story in The Vindicator: “Total student-loan debt after graduation should be less that than your expected annual starting salary.”

But with the cost of higher education as high as it is, what options are there for those who can’t afford to pay their own way?

Edvisors’ Kantrowitz offered this suggestion that should make Youngstown State University President James Tressel smile:

“The best way to reduce costs is to attend a lower-cost college.”

Given that YSU is one of the least expensive colleges and universities to attend in Ohio, Kantrowitz’s suggestion is golden.

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