The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Making college more affordable

Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon.

It’s not due to springtime or April showers, but because of student debt.

Increasing college costs, coupled with decreasing support for higher education on the part of state and federal governments, leads many students to take out larger college loans than they have in the past.

These debts effectively close off opportunities for recent graduates to take low-paying but critical jobs, such as teaching or social work.

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Higher education should be about opening doors of opportunity, not closing them.

Two-thirds of all four-year college graduates in 2004 left school with student debt, compared to less than one-third in 1993. These figures will only get worse with recent developments. This February, Congress passed $12 billion in cuts to student loan programs; the largest such cuts in history.

Seventy percent of these cuts target students and parents already struggling with payments. Additionally, the federal government only minimally increased the maximum award for the Pell Grant, which delivers need based aid to over five million students in the past four years. The burden on students’ shoulders will continue to grow unless action is taken soon.

Students entering low-paying careers in public service face especially daunting circumstances. Research by WISPIRG found that 50.3 percent of public college and 64.1 percent of private college education graduates in Wisconsin have unmanageable debt. Nationally, 37 percent of public and 55 percent of private college social work graduates have unmanageable debt.

Teachers and social workers play a critical role in American society and are essential to local communities. Over the next decade America will need to recruit two million new teachers. Social workers will be critical in providing services to America’s aging population. As students take out more loans for college, state and local governments will have a harder time recruiting and retaining talented teachers and social workers.

Teachers and social workers are representative of a whole sector of low-paying but socially valuable careers that a graduating senior might choose, such as non-profit community work, journalism or the arts. The loss of talented individuals who would enter these fields but cannot, due to accumulated student debt, will be a tremendous blow to America.

There are many ways to brighten the forecast for America’s college students. The Pell Grant should have maximum award caps removed and funded by Congress. At the state level, merit-based aid programs have been supplanting need-based aid programs while the overall pool of funds remains the same.

Increasing need-based grant aid will reduce how much students have to borrow.

Loan payments should be manageable for borrowers of all income levels and student debt should not grow unchecked or last indefinitely. All student loans should have fair and clear interest rates and students and parents need basic consumer protections in the private loan market. Lenders who give borrowers misleading information and/or charge predatory rates must be punished.

Loan forgiveness for those that enter into public service careers should be a viable possibility. State governments and colleges that keep tuition low must receive financial incentives that enable them to maximize enrollment at affordable costs.

The government must take a serious look at the financial difficulties for students of higher education. The Secretary of Education set up a commission on higher education and any recommendations from them must address student debt. We must hold them accountable and therefore I encourage all to visit to take action.

Higher education should not be about the financial storms on the horizon, but about the clear skies and sunny days of the future.

Lensmire is a senior political science major at UW-Madison and a columnist for The Spectator.

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Making college more affordable