THE BLOG
11/10/2014 11:23 am ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

Pay It Forward With Student Loan Debt?

You may have missed this story about a radical new approach to the the student loan issue. Yes, we are swimming in so much news and information at times it can be hard to keep track of it all. Al Queda, Syria, Irag, Putin, and now Ebola, where does it end?

Yet all of the foreign situations aside, there is a situation brewing right here at home that is just begging for an innovative solution. This situation is of course is that of student loans. An issue that is looming so large that some are referring to the size of the student loan debt load as an actual crisis.

Some Background
What is the crisis, why the sudden cause for concern? Haven't students always had student loans to pay off after graduation? Yes, that is almost true. Remember that student loans are a relatively new phenomena in higher education. Consider that your favorite uncle, Uncle Sam that is, only began guaranteeing student loans in 1965. Although, it is true that the very first student loans were provided under the National Defense Education Act (1958), it wasn't until the federal guarantees enacted in 1965 that student loans really took off.

Current Problem
Unfortunately, due to numerous factors which are still being argued about all over the country, the reality is that the size of student loan debt quadrupled over the last 10 years. According to The Economist, the U.S. Student loan debt is greater than $1.2 trillion dollars. No matter how you look at it, that's a massive number.

It Gets Worse
The shifting economy, global competition, and more have changed the job market in such a way that many recent graduates have been unable to find jobs in their field of study. Consequently, some graduates end up taking whatever jobs they can and find themselves struggling to make student loan payments.

A Ray of Sunshine
Meanwhile, there are some who taking matters into their own hands and taking radical steps to solve the problem. But get this: instead of merely protesting and proclaiming that banks and lending institutions should do something, there is an organization out there that is leading the way.

Pay It Forward?
You are most likely familiar with the concept of pay it forward. For a quick review, here is a good working definition to make sure everyone is on the same page. Pay it Forward means that a beneficiary of a good deed repays it to others instead of to original benefactor (Wikipedia). Now note that this concept has been around since 317 B.C. when it first showed up in a popular play. It showed up again in writings from Benjamin Franklin and most recently in a novel and movie of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Modern Day Robin Hood?
There is a new organization by the name of Rolling Jubilee. You can find them here. Anyway, what Rolling Jubilee does is to buy up existing student loan debt and cancel it. Yes, you read that right, they buy it and cancel it. You know that existing student loans can be bought up by third parties who can then collect the payments. Rolling Jubilee does the same thing, except it absolves the debt.

More Than One Way Out
As you can see, as large as it may seem to be on paper, the student loan debt issue can be addressed. Remember, that there are already programs on the books right now to get out from under that student loan debts. If those programs don't work, now we have organizations like Rolling Jubilee.

Perhaps this is but the beginning of a new trend. Maybe we will look back in the next decade and marvel at all of the solutions that showed up for what looked to be a crisis at the time.