To the Editor:
Is the issue of student indebtedness an overblown "side issue," as some maintain? You seem to echo that sentiment when you write that outstanding student-loan debt is "too small a sum to derail the economy" ("What Does $1-Trillion in Student Debt Really Mean? Maybe Not That Much," The Chronicle, May 16).
Nothing could be further from the truth. The total loans outstanding exceed $1-trillion now, which is far greater than either credit-card or car-loan debt. Students finish college with an average debt of more than $25,000. Some students owe more than $100,000. Many start their adult life deep in debt and have no choice but to delay buying a car or a house, or getting married and having children. Some are so saddled with debt that they never dig their way out: Americans 60 or older still owe about $36-billion in student loans. In addition, many students default on their loans and may end up in bankruptcy. Given the steep price tag of tuition, it also means that fewer students may opt to go to college and graduate schools in the future.
The implications for the national economy and America's international competitiveness are clear—college debt has ballooned to such unprecedented proportions that the country is now in the midst of a real crisis. True, the annual student-loan payments (about $60-billion) are only about 0.4 percent of GDP, but the total amount ($1-trillion) represents 6.6 percent of GDP. The problem of student debt is not a side show. It could well be the next economic bomb that sends the country in a tailspin.
The problem is real and demands the nation's full attention. Student indebtedness could be and should be a central bipartisan campaign issue this fall. Students should make their voices heard and demand debt relief. There are many ways to mitigate the problem: grants and scholarships, tuition discounts, debt forgiveness, principal reduction, income-based repayment, interest caps, deferment of payments, etc. The goal is to keep public, private, and on-line colleges and universities affordable to every qualified student. The educational system is the foundation of the country's future and deserves to be fully funded from top to bottom. It is not in the best interest of this great nation to ignore or to belittle the problem of student indebtedness.
Thomas K. Wolber
Associate Professor of German
Ohio Wesleyan University