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114th Congress can help our student loan problem

Student loan debt in the United States is growing upwards of $1.2 trillion.

The United States values higher education in its rhetoric. It needs to, however, match that rhetoric with real action.

{mosads}In 2015, the 114th Congress will have a chance to take positive action combatting our ever-growing student loan debt. Not only is higher education becoming less and less affordable as students consider it, but student loan debt is making life after graduation just as unaffordable. The purpose of a higher education system should be to generate a more informed, skilled, and capable citizenry. The reality of what the higher education system is turning into is much different. The system is functioning to prevent students from putting into practice the skills they learned at school.

When you see the data, it still pays to attend college. But, if we intend to keep it that way and truly acknowledge the benefits of a higher education, Congress must act to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

Congress is not the only actor with a stake in the fight against a student loan debt crisis, but Congress can have a profound impact.

A number of pieces of legislation may help ease the burden of student loans in 2015. They will require bipartisan support on an issue that knows no party lines. Congress can take real steps to start the process of the United States having a healthier relationship with higher education.

Among the potential legislation is the Higher Education Affordability Act that was first introduced this June. While it was discussed in its early stages, if it moves forward in the next Congress, the bill will address a number of critical concerns surrounding student loans. The bill seeks to tackle college affordability, help those borrowing, and increase the accountability and transparency surrounding student loans. Other pieces of legislation will look more specifically at these topics.

Further legislation is seeking to provide greater flexibility in terms of repaying loans, streamline the application process for getting loans, and make it easier for students to transfer credits and apply for grants throughout their schooling. The federal student loan system needs reform and the bipartisan support on the matter is proof that we must act quickly before the situation worsens.

Getting into college is stressful enough to then throw on top of that the stress of figuring out how to pay for it. Greater transparency and understanding surrounding the loans students are receiving is what’s needed. Reform should discuss income-based repayments, refinancing, and potential caps on interest rates and amounts owed. Providing students with a sense of what they are getting into when they apply for a federal student loan and then establishing a system that is suitable for young borrowers is essential. We are talking about young adults who are inexperienced in terms of borrowing. If the broader economic system wants to encourage future financial development, it must work to foster viability in some of its youngest borrowers – students.

Floyd is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Public Administration program and the author of PANIC: One Man’s Struggle with Anxiety.


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