Thursday, July 5, 2007

Some of the problems with paying for college

First, college costs have tended to run ahead, or well ahead, of inflation over the last decade and more. Here in Texas, tuition was deregulated two legislatures ago, and it skyrocketed.

Second, your primary funding source today, outside of scholarships, is loans, not grants. But, there area couple of problems:

There are three basic types of loan programs for undergraduate students: direct loans made by the federal government; federal loans made through private lenders but subsidized and guaranteed by the federal government; and private loans made by private lenders, with no federal guarantees or taxpayer subsidies.

The total amount undergraduates can borrow from the first two categories, direct loans and federal loans made through private lenders, has been frozen since -- get this -- 1992. (To understand how very long ago that was: It was the year Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" topped the charts.) Meanwhile, average college costs have more than doubled. So students increasingly have turned to private lenders to pay their bills.

And by increasingly, I mean shockingly so: Amounts borrowed from private lenders soared 1,201% between the 1995-96 academic year and 2005-2006, according to the College Board, from $1.3 billion to $17.3 billion. The amount tripled in the past five years alone.

Yes, Congress is looking at this issue, but it needs to look more. This is a slam-dunk middle-class election issue for Democrats. And, to the degree states can either rein in state tuition rates or provide more state funding for in-state college students, at least to attend state colleges and universities, it’s a slam dunk at the state level, too.

Cross-posted at Socratic Gadfly