Officials Forum: Addressing the College Affordability Crisis

Written by

U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns
U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns represents the 10th Congressional District of New York. As leader of the Social Work Caucus, he has emerged as a champion for children and youth. He believes that the nation must continue to invest in the lives of young people in order to ensure future prosperity. He has spearheaded numerous forums on issues pertaining to children and youth and has introduced and co-sponsored legislation designed to support young people.

There is no question that obtaining a college degree is essential, especially in these times of high unemployment. A recent Gallup poll showed that 73 percent of college graduates are employed fulltime, compared to only 58 percent of those with a high school education or less.

And the unemployment rate of the less educated is more than twice the unemployment rate of college educated workers. A college education could mean the difference between having a roof over one’s head and homelessness, or having food in the pantry and standing in a pantry line for food. 

Obtaining a college education is becoming a necessity not only for the well-being of our children but also for our economy. Numerous manufacturing jobs are going unfilled because potential employees do not have the math and science skills needed in today’s hi-tech industries.

But how can we expect the children of working and middle class Americans to survive and prosper if the cost of achieving a higher education is out of reach? According to the College Board, the average cost of a four-year public college degree is $8,244 per year in tuition and fees for in-state students and out-of-state students pay $12,526. At private colleges, the average cost is $28,500 in tuition and fees. None of these price tags include living expenses and books.

The cost of a public university education has skyrocketed almost 130 percent over the past 20 years. At the same time, middle class incomes have stagnated. Many have borrowed at high interest rates to finance their college education. Consequently, Americans, for the first time, owe more on their student loans than they do on their credit cards.

In the best interest of our nation and our children’s future, we cannot afford to ignore this issue. It is urgent that we address the college affordability crisis. There is no one simple solution to this crisis.  On one front, I re-introduced the College Swap Act, HR 2410 in the current session of Congress. This bill would allow those with high interest private student loans to swap for a federal student loan, provided they have not exhausted their allotted federal student loan funding.

Under my plan, the federal government will purchase the borrowed amount from the private loan holder and have students pay the government back at a lower interest rate and on more flexible terms than they would pay to private loan companies. HR 2410 will benefit not only students and their families but also our government. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the College Debt Swap Act will generate $10 billion of revenue over two years.

I applaud President Obama for raising this issue in his recent State of the Union Address. His administration unveiled a plan that would encourage colleges and universities to stem the skyrocketing cost of obtaining a higher education by rewarding those schools that keep tuition affordable while providing quality education to its students.

Ultimately, as parents we want our children to attain a higher standard of living than we have. Making higher education affordable is an essential component of that goal. It is therefore urgent that we address this problem.

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