02/11/2014 12:09 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2014

Student Borrowers Need a Bill of Rights

What's a more useful investment to make with borrowed money: a college education or a binge at the casino?

While the answer -- a college education -- should be evident to everybody, our legal system continues to penalize students and graduates by denying them basic consumer protections available for almost every other type of debt -- including gambling debt.

If you spend beyond your means on almost anything other than a higher education, you can discharge those debts in bankruptcy, count on a reasonable statute of limitations on debt collection, and be assured you won't face extreme penalties like the garnishment of your wages, tax refunds, or Social Security benefits. But a student loan borrower facing a serious hardship like a major illness or the death of a spouse has none of these protections.

Let's get our priorities straight.

Student borrowers deserve basic consumer protections.

The absence of rights for student borrowers is particularly problematic because -- while a college degree remains an essential prerequisite for earning a middle class living -- the cost of obtaining a degree is skyrocketing and the Great Recession has hit young people particularly hard.

Due to state budget cuts, the average tuition at public institutions increased by 8.3 percent in 2010 alone. It's not uncommon to meet students and graduates with $100,000 in student loans. At the same time, a recent Rutgers University study of recent graduates of four-year US university programs found only 53 percent of them held full-time jobs and even fewer were using university-level skills.

With too much debt and too few jobs, it's no surprise that default rates have hit record levels. Delinquencies are up 27 percent since 2007. As a New York Times report revealed last month, even terminal cancer patients with student loans are denied the kinds of relief routinely offered to borrowers with other kinds of debt.

I just introduced the Student Borrowers' Bill of Rights, H.R. 3892, in Congress to help us get our priorities straight. It restores bankruptcy protections for federal and private student loans, establishes a statute of limitations on student loan debt collection, prohibits the garnishment of wages, tax refunds, and Social Security benefits, and creates new protections against discrimination in professional licensing.

In short, the Student Borrowers' Bill of Rights means fairness for our system of financing higher education. The basic consumer protections it provides will give students and graduates additional purchasing power that will help boost consumer demand in the economy, and, in turn, help create jobs.

Please contact your Representative and urge them to co-sponsor the Student Borrower's Bill of Rights.

Let's affirm that we, as a society, value a college education more than a binge at the casino. Let's help repair America's system of financing higher education, and end the double standards for students.