What Are We Going to Do About Student Debt?

If you haven’t heard, President Obama recently signed an executive order that expands eligibility for the Pay As You Earn program. The program was created to cap monthly debt payments of eligible borrowers to no more than their monthly income. If you have outstanding debt after 20 years, or 10 years if you work for a nonprofit or in the public sector, your debt will be forgiven.

The program is great for those who are up to their ears in student debt, though it’s also a frightening thought that you may still be in that debt 20 years from now.

Though the Pay As You Earn program does provide much-needed relief to those with debt, it’s kind of like a Band-Aid. It doesn’t so much fix the problem as cover it up for a while and make you feel a little better about it.
Students are coming out of colleges with higher amounts of debt than ever before, and they’re struggling even more than usual to pay it off. Many graduates face unemployment or underemployment, making paying off their debt a near-impossibility.
A large part of the student debt problem is rooted in the weakness of the economy. If more people came out of college and into better paying jobs, much of the debt problem would be solved. However, that’s still fixing the problem after it has already happened. Shouldn’t there be a solution that comes before massive amounts of debt are accrued?
The problem is no one really knows what that solution may be. Many have suggested that the ever-higher tuition costs are to blame for the growing number of graduates with student debt, and lowering tuition slightly may be the best way to help end the student debt crisis.
While in the middle of a West Wing binge on Netflix, I was struck that the conversation many are having today about the cost of higher education was being had on the show in its fourth season. Their solution was to propose that tuition should be tax deductible. To some extent, that is an actuality today. But it’s still clearly not enough.
I’m not an expert in student loans and student debt. I thankfully didn’t have to take any out for my undergraduate degree and managed to graduate debt-free. That wasn’t the case for many of my classmates, and won’t be the case for a lot of students entering college in the fall. The time has come for real conversations about solving the debt problem, instead of just slapping a Band-Aid on it.
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