After watching countless Republican debates in the past year, I have listened to candidates discuss everything from the economy to birth control. I have heard Republicans fighting for Hispanic votes, women's votes and Christian's votes. They have addressed important issues and aimed their messages at vital groups of voters, but as I listen to the rhetoric on television, I cannot help but wonder: What about college students?
I am a junior in college and in less than one year's time, I will be facing an ever-growing pile of loan debt and a treacherous job market. And I am not the only one. The average student loan debt is currently more than $25,000 and growing. The average price of in-state college tuition is about $17,000 and private universities weigh in at a whopping $38,000 per year.
Maybe it is my own bias as a college student, but I have not heard Republican candidates talk nearly enough about the growing student loan debt or what options they propose for college students. There are roughly 20 million people enrolled in colleges and universities across the nation. In my opinion, this is a big group of people to simply overlook.
Governor Romney did briefly address the cost of college and options for college students in my home state, Ohio, while on the campaign trail. His answer to making college affordable: if you cannot afford college, too bad, you are on your own. I do not believe in that approach to higher education. If I had followed that approach, I would not be in college. If everyone follows that approach we will have a public unwilling to educate itself. In a job market where an undergraduate degree is a prerequisite that answer is simply not acceptable. I am urging college students to take a look at the options, and as of right now, we only have one.
President Obama has been fighting for access to higher education regardless of family income throughout his term in office. He has increased funding for the federal Pell grant, which helps college students from low-income families pay for higher education. The Pell grant is a program Republicans have been fighting to cut since the 2011 debt dilemma.
The president has also lowered the cap on the yearly income percentage college graduates have to pay back. Starting this year, students will not have to make loan repayments of more than 10 percent of his or her yearly income. The repayment cap previously was 15 percent. Students will also be eligible for loan forgiveness after 20 years of repayment rather than the previous 25-year requirement. Workers in public service such as teachers, nurses and members of the armed forces are eligible for forgiveness after 10 years of consistent repayment. Students taking out loans in 2012 will also be able to consolidate federal loans at a lower interest rate. In addition to trying to ease the burden of student borrowing, the president has also allowed young adults to stay on his or her parent's insurance plan until age 26 under the Affordable Care Act. With an unstable job market where work is scarce, it is a comfort for many college graduates to know they will not have to scramble for health care coverage, or worse, go without health care.
All of the discussions taking place in the primaries (the economy, health care, religious freedom) are issues concerning America's future. Every Republican candidate has expressed concern with which direction our country is heading. What I don't understand is how the candidates could forget about the group of people pertinent to America's future: college students. Though the president's efforts are coming somewhat late, some have even said they are not enough, I say, they are better than nothing.