Pay off student debt with community service

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Would you be willing to give back to your country — and gain valuable on-the-job experience rebuilding America — in return for paying off your student loan debt?

That’s the idea behind the National Design Services Act (NDSA). The bill includes architectural graduates in the same programs that offer loan assistance or tuition forgiveness to graduates with other types of professional degrees in return for providing pro bono services to the community.

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It’s no secret student debt is one of the most critical issues facing today’s young people and the economy as a whole. Roughly 40 million Americans owe $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, an amount that surpasses every other type of household debt except mortgage debt. Over the past three decades, the average tuition at a public four-year college has more than tripled, yet a post-secondary education is the single most important investment Americans can make for their futures.

Many fields have opportunities for student loan assistance — or even forgiveness — if the student agrees to contribute his or her expertise to a worthwhile societal cause. This isn’t the case in the field of architecture. Graduating architectural students today have no opportunity to get hands-on experience in return for student loan assistance or forgiveness. Architecture graduates come out of school with approximately $40,000 in student loan debt, ranking architecture as one of the professions with the highest student loan balances in the country.

That’s why we are working with the American Institute of Architecture Students and the American Institute of Architects on H.R. 2938, legislation that will create opportunities for emerging architectural professionals to jump-start their careers.

The goal of the NDSA is to provide aspiring architects with opportunities to gain valuable experience while simultaneously giving back to their communities by designing public projects such as schools, health clinics, housing facilities and libraries. In return, the bill will alleviate some of the barriers new students face as they pursue their dreams in architecture.

Just as Congress has provided for doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professions, we urge Congress to provide this same opportunity for architecture graduates.

This is an important opportunity to create long-term community development plans, help rehabilitate blighted or deteriorating neighborhoods, preserve historic sites or design building retrofits for energy and water efficiency and other conservation improvements for our nation’s underserved communities.

Passage of H.R. 2938 will go a long way toward ensuring the architectural profession continues to thrive and helping students get out from under student loan debt while encouraging them to give back to their communities.

Perlmutter has represented Colorado’s 7th Congressional District since 2007. He sits on the Financial Services and the Science, Space and Technology committees. Mitchell is the 59th national president of the American Institute of Architecture Students.