Emerging Crisis in Student Debt Rates
On July 1, the interest rates on government-subsidized Stafford loans, which help students pay for college, are set to double, from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Though some calculations note that the cost per month would only increase by around $6, the rate change has triggered a larger national debate about the staggering levels of debt that students are forced to take on to attend college. There is little doubt that a college degree is—and remains—a valuable investment. The Atlantic recently reported that the typical college graduate earns, on average, $570,000 more in the course of a lifetime than a person with only a high school degree. Financial benefits aside, college provides once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to explore and grow in a safe environment and to meet people from all experiences and walks of life—a journey whose value cannot be underestimated.
To make those journeys easier, colleges have for years engaged in a race to provide more and better amenities to students, from better food to larger gyms—let alone the costs of professors and college staff. Many of these costs have, in turn, been passed on to students in the form of higher tuition and fees, driving up debt levels. Now, some 70 percent of college graduates carry debt, and in 2011 the average individual student loan debt was $23,300. Education is a core value in homes across America, yet access to education has been a struggle for too many—for minorities, women, and our Jewish community, too. Our Jewish values highlight the importance of an accessible education system for all Americans. The Medieval scholar and philosopher Maimonides once said, “The world only survives in the merit of the breath of schoolchildren.” It is therefore our responsibility and obligation as Jews to seek a world where students are not hindered by financial hardship but where each and every American has the opportunity to seek an affordable and accessible education. Our colleges and universities must find a system of financing that works for all students, not only those who can afford the opportunity. Image courtesy Los Angeles Times