As the Great Recession trundles on, years after its official end, we've all come to know the many faces of its victims.
We've seen middle-class homeowners face foreclosure. We've heard about retirees wiped out by the inscrutable financial practices of Wall Street. And we've witnessed the growing masses of fired and furloughed public servants forced to look for employment elsewhere.
Last week -- lost amidst the Supreme Court drama of health care reform -- Congress had the opportunity to reduce the pain of this recession for an oft forgotten victim: the college student.
Students are not usually seen as victims, but today the college dream is in jeopardy. As budgets and endowments wither in our universities, students face skyrocketing tuition and costs. Across the nation, Millennials are forced to take on second jobs, choose less expensive options like community college and struggle to finish degrees in six years.
Even after graduation, students are fast becoming victims. Not only has student loan debt broken the $1 trillion dollar mark, but students continue to take out loans at double the rate of only a decade ago. Today, the average student with a loan graduates with $13,000 in debt. It's the great paradox of our era: never has a higher degree been so essential but so difficult to attain.
Despite these troubling stakes, Congress failed to truly ease the cost burden of college last week.
In what has been heralded as a vote of bipartisan compromise, Congress passed a sprawling bill that included a provision to prevent interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford Loans from doubling in July.
However, this compromise came at an astronomical cost for students. In order to reach an agreement, crippling concessions had to be made. No longer will students benefit from the six-month moratorium on interest rate payments after graduation which will cost students $2 billion dollars in payments. Moreover, graduate students relying on student loans will not benefit from the reduced 3.4% interest rates. They will shoulder the onerous 6.8% rate indefinitely, even paying it while still in school to the tune of $18 billion dollars.
Most shockingly, this compromise only lasts one year. Next summer, Congress will be tasked with finding yet another "solution." This means that college students will face the same unpredictable interest rate landscape making their ability to pay for college precarious once again.
This is patently unacceptable. We should be passing debt forgiveness and cost controlling measures, not increasing the cost of an education. By increasing the cost of college, this compromise will further impede our nation's economic competitiveness and disincentivize capable students from entering low paying professions like teaching.
This is another body blow to the weakened psyche of Millennials everywhere. Students from Louisiana to California have spoken with a unified voice across the country on this issue. Don't mortgage our future, they said. Don't let us wallow in debt. Don't let us be muzzled by our pursuit of an education. For the cost of an oil subsidy or a healthcare provision, Congress could have sent an immediate message to campuses around the country: you are not forgotten. Instead, Washington punted, allowing the true debate about our future to be held another time.
Washington forgets that college students have suffered the brunt of this recession. Addled by debt, tepid economic growth, and a bleak labor market, young Americans are learning to be a recession generation mired in "what could have been" instead of looking forward with hope. When Congress ignores our needs in favor of political expedience we cannot help but feel like a forgotten generation--caught between prosperity and austerity.
It is we, the millennial college graduates, who will make this country great again. Now is a time to send us a vote of confidence, not shackle us further.
It is not only the 7.4 million students relying on these loans that don't appreciate this political gamesmanship. It is all of us who struggled to pay for college that have furiously watched this most recent failure of Washington politics.
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