Saturday, May 23, 2009

how to obviate college debt, maybe

I was in the park yesterday, and I noticed there were many young people wandering about looking stunned. Now, sun can stun in Seattle, especially after a really rainy winter and spring but it struck me that it might not be a coincidence that it's roughly this time of year when people graduate. So I wondered if some of them were stunned by the explosive decompression of no school--and/or the thought of college debt. And then when I got home I came across Robert Reich's blog. He has a modest proposal regarding student loans:

But how can a young people repay this much money when the job market is so bad? The law doesn't allow college loans to be discharged in personal bankruptcy.

Even when they do find jobs, college grads have no choice but to take the job that pays the most. They can't afford to do what they might really want to do -- become, say, a social worker or writer or legal services attorney.

This problem won't go away when the economy recovers. College debt burdens have been rising for years, and the career choices of many newly-minted graduates are narrowing to those that help repay college loans. We need a new system. So here's my proposal: Any college student can get full funding from the government, with only one string attached. Once they've graduated and are in the work force, they pay 10 percent of their incomes for the first 10 years of full-time work into the same government fund they drew on to finance their college education.

Now maybe that formula will need to be adjusted up or down to cover all the costs. And surely some people will game the system as they do every other one. But the essential idea is that linking the costs of college to subsequent wages makes college affordable to everyone.

It struck me as simple and good-hearted, certainly an interesting starting point. But I've never been through an American educational institute; I don't know what it's like to have to pay to play. So I'm curious about the response of those who have. What do you think?

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