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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: student loan debt

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August 28, 2013 at 6:08 AM

Why college grads also want the minimum wage to rise

Illustration by M. Ryder / Op Art

Illustration by M. Ryder / Op Art

Editor’s note: Osa Hale is a Western Washington University intern for our opinion section this summer.

At $9.19 an hour, Washington’s minimum wage is the highest in the nation. The Evergreen State is also fairly wealthy; its per-capita personal income is 12th out of all the states. Yet Seattle is seeing a surge of workers demanding a higher minimum wage: $15 is the popular number among unhappy airport and fast-food workers. (Here is a Seattle Times news story about airport workers and blog post by business news columnist Jon Talton about fast-food workers.) We are also seeing Mayor Mike McGinn take up the living wage fight with Whole Foods, according to this column by news columnist Danny Westneat, in an attempt to set a precedent in connecting use of public land to unions and wages.

This is not an isolated situation. President Barack Obama has been advocating a federal increase in minimum wage, saying it’s a priority for successful businesses to pass on their financial success to their employees.

This is something that should be addressed sooner, rather than later. Consider the big ugly financial monster facing many minimum-wage-earners: student loans.

Let’s focus on fast food. The median age of food preparation and serving workers (including fast food) is about 29 years old, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When I think of where I want to be at 29, flipping burgers isn’t on the list. But for many, it’s a reality.

Despite a rising number of young people enrolling in secondary education (between 2000 and 2010, enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased 37 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics), fewer graduates are finding work in the field they earned a degree to enter, and nearly half of employed college grads are working jobs that do not require a college degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I’d like to pause and dispel a myth of the lazy college grad, living with his or her parents and working as a waitress or fry cook because it’s easy.

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Comments | Topics: economy, minimum wage, student loan debt

July 1, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Congress misses student loan rates deadline sinking college kids deeper in debt

20040912opart-fThe state Legislature narrowly averted a government shut down last week by passing an operating budget. Congress had a fiscally-related deadline too but failed to meet it. The result is that today federal student loan interest rates rose from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.  That’s double the current rate paid by more than 7 million students nationwide. The jump hits Washington state hard. Last year, 45 percent of the freshmen enrolled in our public higher-education system borrowed for college.

Congress’ failure is disappointing. Times editorials here and here argued for action by Congress. Last year, lawmakers extended the current rate when they could not agree on a  more long-term solution. But they  failed to do so this time. A nation hamstrung by more than $1 trillion in student loan debt must tackle interest rates.

Congress recessed for the Fourth of July holiday and several members of the state’s delegation, including Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Suzan DelBene will be at the University of Washington at 10 a.m. this morning to push for the Keep Student Loans Affordable Act of 2013 (S. 1238) which would extend low rates for a year giving Congress time to work on a long-term solution.

This McClatchy story alludes to a plan Congress may agree on by July 10. That’s a week out and here’s why Congress should meet the new deadline. 

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Comments | Topics: barack obama, congress, Education

March 14, 2013 at 7:00 AM

A plan to eliminate college debt eyes the University of Washington’s $2 billion endowment

University of Washington Husky Union Building. Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times

University of Washington Husky Union Building.
Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times

When college loan debt in the U.S. surpassed all other commercial debt – including credit card debt – Americans fell into the sobering new normal outlined in a report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

Currently, almost half of all college students borrow, and those who earn bachelor’s degrees leave school with an average of $26,600 in debt. Possible solutions to the crisis are found in “Doing Away With Debt: Using Existing Resources to Ensure College Affordability for Low and Middle Income Families,” a new report from the Education Trust. The report’s biggest takeaway is the need to redesign the federal financial-aid system in order to increase college completion rates, reduce student debt, and close the opportunity and degree attainment gaps.

The Washington, D.C.-based think tank also calls for a shared responsibility of college costs among the federal government, state governments, institutions of higher education, and students themselves. The goal is for low-income and working-class students to be able to afford college without loans and for middle-income students to be able to access no-interest loans and affordable, income-based repayments. Ed Trust’s president, Kati Haycock makes the case in this Huffington Post piece.

When talking about what colleges can do, Ed Trust suggests spending more of their endowment, pointing to the University of Washington’s more than $2 billion endowment of which it spends only 4% annually, according to Ed Trust. If the UW increased its endowment to 5 percent, more than $21 million would be available to help 3,445 students avoid high debt. The school is further criticized with failing to provide students with the no debt or low-debt policies offered by peer institutions, including Michigan State, UC San Diego and UC Irvine. But is that really a fair argument? 

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Comments | Topics: Education, higher education, student loan debt