Take-a-pill politics

President Obama recently fulfilled one of his 2008 campaign promises. On June 9, he signed a presidential memorandum expanding a student loan program that will allow certain college graduates to only pay 10 percent of their income on federal student loans. Their debt is erased after 10 years if they work for the government or a nonprofit. It will also be erased after 20 years if they join the regular work force. While there are many reasons this may be a good or bad idea, I have one rather big concern.

The expansion of this particular student loan program merely treats symptoms of the larger problems Americans face in education. The White House reports the average student debt is $29,400 for someone graduating with a bachelor’s degree. It also points out that the cost of college has nearly tripled in the last three decades while family incomes have remained fairly stagnant. Why is this bad?

At some point, we need to look seriously beyond our personal and partisan ideologies to make practical decisions about the broader issues at play here. I have friends directly benefiting from this decision. They work hard, planned to pay off the debt anyway and are now thrilled the burden will be lifted early. While this is fantastic for those with high debt, it also makes our country’s incredibly serious problems more tolerable without addressing them. It is like taking a pill to handle the pain of a serious disease without going after the root cause.

How can we allow the cost of a college education to continue to rise while the higher wages that education promises do not go up with the price of a degree? The national average cost of attending a college, including room and board, for a public institution was $950 in 1965. The University of Iowa’s current in-state tuition is $21,614, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While Pew shows young adults who are 25-year-olds, so a few years out of college, only make $7,000 more than 25-year-olds in 1965. They graduate with 22 times the college debt, but only make around 5.5 times as much money.

Those numbers are unacceptable. We cannot let our political leaders hold off from making real decisions. We cannot let them give us a pill to hold off the pain. Please push for colleges to cost less. Push our leaders to hold public institutions accountable. Refuse to take another pill, and demand a cure.

Alex Schuman is an award-winning broadcast journalist. The University of Iowa graduate is a produced playwright and currently reports for WHAS-TV in Louisville, Ky. He is a former Fort Dodge resident who was an intern for The Messenger.