What a mess politics has made of the process of a high-school student aiming to get a college education.
Republican-Democratic sparring has imperiled the prospects for millions of recent graduates and would-be students by congressional inaction on a student-loan bill.
First of all, let’s be clear on the advantages of having a college education, which are increasing all the time. In 1980, a college graduate taking a first job earned 40 percent more than a high-school grad; in 2013, the disparity has risen to 80 percent.
And it is surely in America’s best interest to have an educated workforce and citizenry. Better, more sophisticated goods are conceived and produced. Better, more informed decisions are made. Continued world leadership is enabled.
But the costs of that education are getting out of hand. Since 1980, tuition at private, four-year institutions has more than doubled. At public colleges, it has increased by more than 50 percent.
Of course, colleges must pay a highly trained and skilled workforce, in competition for their faculty and staffs with high-paying private industry.
Still, according to the College Board, the annual overall cost of a college education — without loans or scholarships, which most students now receive — is now $15,584 at a public two-year college; $22,261 at a public four-year school; and an unbelievable $43,261 at a private four-year institution. That’s more than $200,000, when all is said and done. Who has that kind of money?
So students have to borrow. But, with the job outlook these days not promising an immediate high-paying job in a graduate’s field, paying back those loans has become difficult at best, impossible at worst.
Congress and the White House saw this and set out to craft a bill to help with those loans. But, typically, the two sides of the aisle can’t merge on the issue.
The question comes down to this: Should Congress pass a one-year bill to cut the interest rate on subsidized Stafford student loans while working on a permanent fix, or should it negotiate for however long it takes on the long-term solution?
The Democrats wanted the stopgap, cutting interest rates from 6.8 to 4.3 percent for one year. The Republicans led the fight to defeat that proposal, calling it merely “kicking the can down the road.”
But, right now, there is not an alternative plan. If Congress fails on this, millions of recent graduates will be plunged into insolvency, eventually hindering America’s creativity and productivity.
We all want a permanent solution to this problem. But, in the meantime, we would all benefit from a rescue, no matter how temporary.