For many students, earning a college degree follows the same narrative: attend college, take out student loans and, upon graduation, spend the years that follow working to pay off what is owed.
But the process of paying off student loans isn’t as straightforward as making payments month after month. The reality is that students face job shortages in their field of study, companies that can only offer part-time employment at low wages for new hires and insufficient training on how to navigate the loan borrowing and repayment process.
With $1.2 trillion in aggregated student debt in the United States, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the issue of student loan debt and college affordability has snowballed into a problem that can no longer be ignored. Instead of burdening individual students from lower and middle class families with unrealistic college-related expenses, our country’s leaders should look at the larger issue of college affordability, or lack thereof.
The numbers behind student loan debt paint a picture grim enough to make prospective college students cringe. It was estimated that almost 70 percent of seniors in the U.S. who graduated from a public college in 2013 left with student loan debt, according to The Institute For College Access and Success, a nonprofit organization. The organization also estimated that on average, the debt amounted to a whopping $28,400 per borrower that same year, with SF State falling below the national average at $17,985 per borrower.
Despite these figures, funding for public education has continued to decrease, and only a few have taken steps to solve the problem. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced her “New College Compact” plan Aug. 10, which would tackle the issue of college affordability in the United States. The plan, which is estimated to cost $350 billion over the span of 10 years, promises that no student attending 4-year public college will have take out loans to pay for tuition.
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has gone as far as to boast a plan that would eliminate college tuition for public colleges and universities in the U.S. altogether. Individual states and the federal government would fund Sanders’ “College For All Act,” which would cost $70 billion annually, according to a . Both plans include refinancing options for borrowers and a streamlined application process.
It seems as though college affordability has finally begun to attract the attention it deserves, regardless of whether or not the issue is just another tactic to attract swing voters in the upcoming election. As students and stakeholders in this issue, it is our responsibility to not only advocate for ourselves but to keep in mind how the repercussions of our actions, and sometimes our lack of action, will impact generations to come.
It is unlikely that any one person will have the perfect solution to ease the financial stress that comes with paying for college, especially for those in the lower and middle classes of our society. At the very least, we can continue to discuss with our peers, teachers and world leaders to progress toward a solution rather than drown in our own complacency.