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July 06. 2013 1:13AM

Student debt: Washington subsidizes it

The interest rate on Stafford loans used by low income college students doubled from 3.4 to 6.8 percent due to congressional gridlock. Politicians are scrambling to pander to young voters by rolling back the rate increase.

If politicians really care about the best interests of these young adults, they should encourage students to think twice before going into debt for higher education in the first place rather than making it easier for them to do so at a lower interest rate.

In New Hampshire, nearly three out of every four students has some student loan debt, with the average amount over $30,000. Nationally, around half of students who start college don't finish, and half of those who do finish end up working jobs that don't require a college degree.

For more students than high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers will ever admit, college is an expensive waste of money and time. Add debt to the picture and millions of dropouts and graduates alike would be better off if they'd never filled out a college application form.

Consider two high school friends who graduate in the middle of their class and aren't exactly sure what they want to do in life. Both can go to college, because there's a business posing as an institution of higher learning willing to sell a degree to any student whose tuition check will clear. Federal student loan programs keep such diploma mills from going bankrupt.

The first enters the work force and spends the next years gaining experience, earning money, and advancing a few steps up the ladder to successively better jobs.

The second goes to college and enrolls in an array of courses. He pays for this with a mix of help from mom and dad, his own meager savings from summer and part-time jobs, and a Stafford loan.

Two years later, he has a year and a half of credits and has changed his major three times. Money is getting tight, and he's still not sure what he really wants to do. He decides to take some time off from school. He gets a job working at the same place his friend works. In fact, she's his manager.

While he's been spinning his wheels in school, not earning money and accumulating $16,000 in debt, she's been able to pay all her bills and save up some money. She can envision putting a down payment on a condo in a few years.

Which one is further ahead in life, the student with some college and student loan debt, or the student with no college and no debt?

The Stafford loan program makes it easy to go straight from high school to college without thinking about whether higher education is necessary to get you where you want to go.

If you have to be in debt, certainly it's better to be in debt at 3.4 percent than 6.8 percent. But it's better yet to not be in debt at all.


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