Seems like student loan debt is all over the news this year, and getting more virulent as the summer goes on. Coverage has ranged from this fairly objective article in the Huffington Post to this frankly partisan piece in the Wall Street Journal.
Interest rates doubling! Parties playing politics!
World ending- film at eleven!
OK, well, at least the media has been able to engage the public's attention over an issue that can be, honestly, pretty arcane and tedious. But the tedious, arcane bits are where the pieces of whatever becomes the final solution are to be found.
One out of the box solution that obviates federal involvement altogether is Oregon's Pay It Forward proposal. Oregon House Bill 3472, as it is officially known...
proposes to study a plan in which Oregon students would pay nothing toward tuition and fees in return for agreeing to pay back a percentage of their income after graduation. It faces really serious logistical and operational obstacles, as noted in this article in the Oregonian announcing it's passage. But it's at least creative thinking toward a solution.
Some more prosaic but still creative and potentially effective ideas are in the TICAS white paper Aligning the Means and the Ends released in February this year. TICAS is The Institute for College Access and Success, a non-profit policy think tank for, well, college access and success. They do a lot of work on higher education data gathering and consumer education, such as the Project on Student Debt.
In their white paper they discuss some overarching principles as well as some specific ideas to re-form student lending back into a practice that enriches the country by enabling its citizens to prosper themselves. Here are a few quotes from the Executive Summary to catch your mind's eye:
"With few exceptions, federal policies currently treat all colleges alike, regardless of their record..."
"Taxpayer dollars should not subsidize schools that routinely do more harm than good."
"Currently, a school’s eligibility for federal aid is all or nothing, with no risk-sharing in
Not a bad line of reasoning, and why I think the granular Gainful Employment regs should be enforced, and applied to *every* school- private, public, land grant, for profit, not for profit, undergrad, graduate and professional, even vocational.
This is good thinking too, seems to me, or rather a rethinking or the overarching structure:
"The current federal student loan program is too complex... a holdover from when banks received
subsidies to make... loans that were guaranteed by the government, shielding lenders –
but not borrowers or taxpayers – from risk. Now that these loans are made directly and more
cost-effectively by the Department of Education, the entire student loan system can and should
be streamlined and improved."
The system is structured fundamentally differently now, as is the sociocultural environment in which we operate. Welcome to the information economy, it operates by a different set of rules than the service economy did. Tech is enabling novel paradigms in education: MOOCs, the virtual campus, completely self directed learning... Our national student lending system needs to change as our higher education system changes.
So, are any of these 'the' answer? No. There is no 'the' answer. But we need these ideas, and we need people to keep thinking of more ways to approach it, because the way we're approaching it now sure ain't working anymore.