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Outside editorial: Debt vise tightens on students

Posted: May 1, 2012 - 11:00pm

The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star:

Even when congressional Republicans and Democrats say they agree, they find ways to disagree.

Both sides claim they want to prevent interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford student loans from automatically doubling in July. That’s the good news. Interest rates soaring to 6.8 percent would affect 7.4 million Americans.

The bad news: Each political party has its own idea of how to best pay the $6 billion it would cost to keep rates at 3.4 percent. Democrats like the idea of ending tax subsidies for oil and gas companies. Republicans prefer a raid on a health fund.

Surely the two sides can put politics aside for a moment and help young people evade an even deeper debt trap. A compromise before a House vote scheduled for today would be a great start.

Republicans are furious with President Barack Obama for barnstorming college campuses to push for legislation freezing the interest rate. However, the president deserves credit for moving the needle.

Although House Speaker John Boehner says Republicans never intended to let the rate double, they passed a budget that accounts for exactly that.

But holding interest rates steady is a small gesture in the face of mounting student debt, which was expected to hit the $1 trillion mark this week. Policymakers, colleges and students themselves must work to make higher education more affordable and avoid high debt levels.

In Missouri, 65 percent of 2010 college graduates had taken on debt, with the average amount being $22,601, according to the Project on Student Debt. In Kansas, 57 percent of college graduates had loans to pay, with an average amount of $22,280.

Colleges and universities must do a better job holding down costs. The government should expand sanctions on schools that do a poor job preparing students for careers that will enable them to pay off the loans.

States must show a greater level of support for public higher education. Only recently did student tuition rates climb higher than state aid in many places.

Consumer education is vital. The government should do a better job making students and graduates aware of specialized loan repayment programs. And families need to seek sound advice about college financing options before taking on a loan.

Action is needed on many fronts, starting today in Congress.

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