Congratulations, Washington high-school graduates. About two-thirds of you are already on your way to another opportunity: college. Have you thought about how you’re going to pay your tuition?
Considering how important it is to the nation’s economy that more young people go to college and get trained for the jobs of the future, lawmakers in Olympia and Washington, D.C., need to find more ways to make college more affordable and lower student debt.
The Washington Legislature took a good step in this direction in 2015 by cutting tuition. Now lawmakers should take the next step toward college affordability and give students ways to pay off student debt through public service and consider making the first two years of higher education free for everyone.
Students from middle-class families are forced to depend too heavily on student loans to pay for college. In Washington, about six out of 10 students graduate with student debt, with an average of $24,600 per borrower, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Nationally, the numbers are worse.
America’s student debt now totals a shocking $1.3 trillion, more than all consumer debt except for mortgages.
While their parents may have worked their way through college, the idea is laughable for today’s young people. Even students who make $15 an hour earn only about $15,000 a year working full-time each summer and 15 hours a week during school. Tuition plus housing and other expenses totals about $25,000 a year at Washington’s public universities.
Congress should address the student debt crisis this year, especially since the news is about to get worse for student borrowers.
Interest rates on student loans are going up by seven-tenths of a percentage point this fall and as long as the economy keeps going strong, those rates are likely to keep on rising, thanks to a decision by Congress in 2013 to tie federal student loan rates to the market.
Last week, the U.S. Education Department announced it would change two key Obama-era rules, including one that would have let students have their student loans erased in cases of academic fraud by their college. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says the rule aimed at for-profit colleges was too broad and confusing and put taxpayers on the hook.
Students and their families need help making college an affordable option. This action by the Education Department is another move in the wrong direction.