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Rising student loan defaults should not be ignored

Students have already felt the pinch of increasing debt. In 2010, graduates who took out student loans to cover the cost of their educations left school with an average of $24,000 in debt. Overall student debt, at $3 billion, surpassed the nation’s credit card debt for the first time — a statistic that is, quite frankly, horrifying. Simultaneously, figures released last week by the Department of Education show that 8.8 percent of students whose loans entered repayment in fiscal year 2009 had defaulted on those loans by the end of fiscal year 2010, a sharp increase from the 7.0 percent default rate recorded the year before.

In the current climate of cutbacks, universities themselves are becoming more polarized between the financial haves and the have-nots. According to a New York Times article, state and local appropriations to public research universities were cut by an average of $751 per student between 2008 and 2009, amounting to tuition increases of $369 per student. At public community colleges, education-related spending didn’t rise for a decade. Private research universities, in contrast, spend three and a half times as much money on education-related spending per student and have increased that figure over the past 10 years.

The reality behind these figures cannot be ignored. As the price of a much-needed college education continues to increase faster than inflation or household income, low- and middle-income students are increasingly coming up short when it comes to paying the bills. They are also getting progressively less help from affordable public universities and community colleges as those institutions feel the squeeze themselves.

It is up to students and administrators alike — from all backgrounds — to unify and express their concerns persuasively to local, state, and federal governments. Amid this year’s Congressional mania for spending cuts, subsidized Stafford Loans for graduate students were entirely cut in last month’s Budget Control Act, and the House of Representatives passed a bill in February that would have cut the Pell Grant program by $5.7 billion.

If we care about the future education, we must make it known that we care and will defend and advocate legislation that enables affordable college tuition.