THE BLOG
10/26/2012 03:46 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2012

Student Debt on Millennial Voters' Minds This Election

With less than two weeks to Election Day, plenty of pundits and journalists are wondering aloud if Millennials will come out in the same numbers they did in four years ago.

In the four years since Obama was elected, roughly 15 million Millennials have turned 18 and become eligible to vote. Today there are 46 million young people (18-29) who are eligible to vote and our generation now makes up one-fifth of the entire voting-eligible population.

There's no doubting that Millennials matter, and any candidate who fails to engage them will have a very hard time getting elected.

This year, both candidates have focused heavily on the economy -- and with good reason, as it is on the mind of nearly every voter. But what gets far too little attention is the fact that the future of the American economy is tied directly to the success of young people. The ability of this generation to innovate, explore, and succeed and, in turn, the health of our economy, is at risk as we face an ever-growing student debt crisis.

Today, Campus Progress released a new report outlining the challenges facing young people due to student debt. The report also highlights the need for action from elected officials.

With the precipitous rise of student debt, which is now estimated to have surpassed $1 trillion nationwide, there have been plenty of articles asking if a college degree is worth it. The answer has come back again and again an emphatic yes.

Indeed, higher education remains critical for millions of students and their families. College graduates are nearly twice as likely to find work as those with only a high school diploma. The current unemployment rate for those with a college degree -- 4.1 percent -- is about half of the national average. In fact, 80 percent of Millennials agree that "government investments in education" are essential to growing the economy.

But over the past three decades, the cost of attaining a college degree has increased more than 1,000 percent and two-thirds of students who earn four-year bachelor's degrees are graduating with an average student loan debt of more than $25,000.

Students of color have been especially impacted; African-American students cite high student loan debt as the No. 1 obstacle while working to pay for school and earn their degree. Additionally, 86 percent of Latino high school students say getting a degree is a high priority, but less than half planned to go to school due to financial barriers.

President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney know that college affordability and rising student debt are serious concerns for millions of families. They know higher education will be one of the issues voters consider at the ballot box -- which is likely why it has come up in every one of the presidential debates.

With student debt now impacting a record one in five households, this is an issue that candidates and elected officials must address and for which they must present viable policy solutions.

Millennials are counting on elected leadership -- from Congress to the White House -- to take action and fight to reign in student debt and keep college affordable. Ensuring every American has the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree will be a deciding factor for many young voters when they vote on Nov. 6.