Tuition increases at the College of Charleston, The Citadel and Trident Technical College are smaller than in some years prior. But that is cold comfort to the student or student’s family having to borrow even more money.
The staggering amount of student debt is not just a South Carolina problem. Nationally it tops $1.2 trillion. That’s an average of $29,000 among 40 million borrowers.
And that much debt spurs some troubling situations:
■ Fewer college graduates are able to purchase houses.
■ They delay getting married and having children.
■ Those who do have children are unable to save for those children’s college educations or for their own retirement.
■ With the government making many of the student loans, taxpayers bear the burden when they are not repaid.
■ Students are inclined to stop short of getting degrees because of the debt they will face.
■ That means fewer educated people for the workforce. (Think Boeing and Volvo.)
■ And when fewer people hold good jobs, that means less money for the Social Security programs that older Americans have come to rely on.
As the nation’s focus turns to the presidential primaries, voters should demand that each candidate lay out his or her solutions for soaring student debt. Wonky solutions full of dollar amounts and time estimates, not sweeping generalities and empty promises.
It isn’t difficult to point fingers for the high cost of colleges: too many administrators, fancy new dorms, food courts and student recreation centers, shrinking fiscal support from states and professors with lighter teaching schedules.
Finding solutions is trickier. Some would have the federal government pick up the tab for colleges altogether. Yes, that’s the same federal government that is struggling to pay for Social Security, health care and highway repairs.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has pitched the idea of requiring colleges to pay when their students default on loans.
Another approach involves a formula by which colleges are rewarded when students make progress and complete their degrees instead of being rewarded for simply enrolling students.
Some higher education experts are asking Congress to put the heat on states to reverse the precipitous drop in public funding for colleges.
At the University of South Carolina in 1987, more than half (52.2 percent) of its revenue came from the state.
In 2012, state funding had dropped to 21.6 percent of USC’s total.
Others suggest that much less costly online education will have to be a major part of the solution.
The cost of college debt is both economic and social. Presidential candidates must address this pressing topic.
Voters are waiting for answers.