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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

October 18, 2012 at 7:10 AM

Elephant in the election room: cost of higher education

With the cost of higher education rising along with the level of student debt upon graduation, politicians at the national and state level need to address the issue frankly and provide real solutions.

The average student graduates with $22,000 of debt. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)

The average college student in Washington State graduates with over $22,000 of student debt. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)

SEATTLE — As a master’s student at the University of Washington with a small mountain of student loans, I find myself paying even closer attention to the 2012 election. And I don’t just mean listening to Mittens and BO (an unfortunate combination of nicknames if I’ve ever seen one). I think the Washington State governor’s race is just as important.

I have been educated entirely through Washington State public schools, from kindergarten through my last quarter of graduate school (not counting one year in pre-kindergarten lest some fact checker start digging). First of all, let me say thanks to anyone who has made a purchase in state for the financial support. Secondly, I need to come out of the closet, as a current Husky who did her undergrad at Washington State University.

(Go Cougs!)

We all know that tuition rates have shot up at colleges around the state (and country) in the past few years. But let me just put it in perspective. My final year of undergraduate study at WSU, the tuition cost $5,812, a 7% increase from the previous year. This past May, five years later, WSU approved a tuition rate of $10,874 for 2012-2013, a 16% increase from the previous year.

That’s 87% more than my final year of undergraduate. In five years.

Similar raises were made at other state universities and the proposal has been made to de-fund the University of Washington. Higher education in Washington State has been dramatically impacted by the recession over the past four years. Yesterday WSU President Floyd proposed tying the school’s tuition increases to the Consumer Price Index, so that the cost would rise with inflation.

Add to that the issue of student debt. As of 2010, the average graduate in Washington has a student debt load of over $22,000. This year total student loan debt passed credit card debt in the U.S. and has topped $1 trillion (an amount Austin Powers didn’t even use in 1999).

American Student Assistance reports that “as of the first Quarter of 2012, the under 30 age group has the most borrowers at 14 million, followed by 10.6 million for the 30-39 group, 5.7 million in the 40-49 category, 4.6 million in the 50-59 age group and the over 60 category with the least number of borrowers at 2.2 million for an overall total of 37.1 million.”

Of the 37 million student loan borrowers, around 5.9 million have fallen at least 12 months behind on payments. Combine that with high interest rates for those who default and no federal statute of limitations on collections, and it seems to me a recipe for disaster.

Maybe you think I’m overreacting. But I think the number 1,000,000,000,000┬ásays otherwise.

Budget shortfalls and cuts today are something the younger generations are going to pay for for decades to come. Add to that higher than average unemployment rates for recent graduates, higher numbers than ever moving back in with parents, and issues with programs like Social Security and Medicare, and I think we have a recipe for disaster.

I know I sound alarmist – I swear that’s not my default setting – but this issue should be leading discussions during this election season. (Along with the environment, health care, jobs, etc., etc. Okay,we have a few issues.)

I’ve been thankful to see it as a such a focus in the Washington governor’s race, but I’d like to see it more in the national conversation. Mitt Romney promising one student a job after graduation, which he did in Tuesday’s presidential debate, isn’t enough.

Comments | More in Local, State | Topics: student debt, student loans, Tuition

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