President's college loan relief plan spurs debate: Fair or too generous?
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In a move intended to "make college more affordable," President Obama proposes new rules for government-insured student loans: Cutting interest rates slightly, limiting monthly payments to 10 percent of discretionary income (above a basic living level) and forgiving debt after 20 years (or 10 years for certain public service workers). The White House also is working on a "Know Before You Owe" project to warn about the cost of student loans. Debt burdens for graduates who can't find jobs in a struggling economy is one rallying point for nationwide protests that began with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.
Congress already passed legislation proposed by Obama to cap some student loan payments at 15 percent of a graduate's disposable income and to forgive the balance after 25 years. "College graduates are entering one of the toughest job markets in recent memory, and we have a way to help them save money by consolidating their debt and capping their loan payments," says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "We want to reduce those monthly payments . . . up to a couple of hundred dollars." Predictably, the more lenient terms suggested last week for students enrolling in 2014 are fuel for fiery words. "Students will be encouraged to borrow as much money as they can possibly borrow at taxpayer expense and then pay as little back as they possibly can and then have the rest wiped off the books so the taxpayers will pick up that freight," says presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota. "The individual needs to repay and be responsible for repaying their student loan debt."
Behind the politics is a stark situation with real risks. Americans now owe more on college loans than on credit cards, with student loan debt expected to exceed $1 trillion this year. Rising costs leave some college graduates in a deep financial hole. On average, Class of 2010 members owe $24,000. And a new report shows average in-state tuition and fees for a full-credit load at four-year public colleges now exceeds $8,000 per year, the highest amount ever. While announcing his "Pay As You Earn" program at a downtown Denver campus of the University of Colorado, the president recalled that when he and First Lady Michelle Obama were married in 1992, they had about $120,000 combined in student debt.
President says: "I know you're hearing stories from friends and classmates and siblings who are struggling to find work, and you're wondering what's in store for your future. And I know that can be scary. This is something Michelle and I know about firsthand. I've been in your shoes." -- Oct. 27 remarks at University of Colorado
Student says: "College isn't for everyone and we need to stop selling kids on six-digit loans before telling them how unnecessary their chosen major is." -- Mark Kogan, attending American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C.
Critic says: "This plan is troubling and simply reinforces the culture of irresponsible borrowing. . . . It isn't fair, especially to kids who have been paying off their loans on time." -- Andrea Tantaros, New York Daily news columnist
Front Page Talking Points is written by
Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2013
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