In the GOP debate last night, candidates made harsh statements about federal student loans and, by extension, college education in general. Rep. Ron Paul called student loans “a total failure” and said the U.S. should abolish them; Gov. Rick Perry managed to remember that he doesn’t think “the federal government should be in the business of paying for programs and building up huge debt out there,” adding that the U.S. should “force universities to be more efficient.” Newt Gingrich called student loans “an absurdity” because they allow students to “stay in college longer because they don’t see the cost.” These statements show not only the inequality inherent in a plan to drop monetary education assistance, but also the devalorization of education in America.
ThinkProgress reports that “outstanding student loan debt is projected this year to hit $1 trillion for the first time, while the average college student now graduates with more than $25,000 in debt.” This would suggest that the loan program is not sufficiently funded, rather than, as Rep. Paul states, that “we should get rid of the loan programs.” He complains that the $1 trillion will be hoisted on taxpayers but doesn’t stop to think of the alternative: a country even more uneducated than it already is relative to its wealth. 9,020,465 students used the federal student loan program in the last academic year; without those programs or stronger support for colleges and universities the U.S. would effectively lose that number of educated, specialized workers.
ThinkProgress links to the blog of Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal, on which he’s come up with a two-part plan to address student loan debt. One part would involve undoing the student loan reforms that have made them stricter than most loans. He quotes Elizabeth Warren: “Why should students who are trying to finance an education be treated more harshly than someone who negligently ran over a child or someone who racked up tens of thousands of dollars gambling?” The second part involves refinancing student loans to the rates that “the financial sector enjoys.”