05/16/2012 06:16 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2012

The Student Loan Debate

You have to wonder if this wasn't an election year, would the Senate still be battling over how to fund the proposal to keep interest rates on student loans where they are? It's a shame that a topic so close to the hearts and pocketbooks of so many Americans becomes the stuff of campaign fighting.

With college debt soaring over a trillion dollars, parents and students are up in arms. It's no wonder why California students have started demonstrating and the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken up the banner too.

The cost of educating our children, who are our future, rises at an alarming rate. Tuition has risen 530 percent since 1982. The average student graduates with $26,000 of debt; a student that is in the eighth grade now will graduate with $44,000 of debt. No matter what the Senate decides, this problem won't go away any time soon. In 2011, 43 states cut funding to higher education institutions as well as grant money to students. This drives up tuition rates and decreases the total value of financial aid. Students and parents are left to pay the difference.

But cuts aren't the only factors increasing debt loads. Forty percent of college freshmen take remedial classes and 28 percent of sophomores still take them. The majority of students take 5 ½ to six years to earn a four year degree. Forty four percent of students change their major and the majority of those that do change it at least three times before they graduate. Also, transferring from one school to another drives up costs and only 22 percent of students graduate from the school they first attended.

One extra year of college at a state school can cost an additional $20,000 and at a private school, an extra year can add anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000.

So, are student loan interest rates the right place to be investing our energy into?

Or should we focus on building a better and earlier strategic plan to help alleviate many of the things that drive up the cost of an education. A structured comprehensive plan should begin in eighth grade. It can help students make better decisions about their education and bring more to the table as they enter college.

In doing so, students become eligible for more merit-based financial aid, they make better choices about which colleges to attend and which majors would really work for them. Students with an education plan take fewer remedial classes, change majors less frequently, transfer to different schools less often and in most cases graduate within four years saving them thousands of dollars.

Because it's an election year and students and their parents represent millions of voters, the Senate has no choice but to come up with a compromise and keep the interest rate where it is, at least for another year. But parents and students need to plan better to reduce costs themselves. Earlier planning leads to better choices, better grades, more financial aid and fewer years spent pursuing a degree.