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Much attention has arisen in recent years regarding the heavy debt many people take on in order to get a college education. President Biden has led a campaign to help many people escape at least part of that burden. Biden advocates erasing some of that debt — a popular idea among many of those who are still paying off education loans years after they left school, but not so much among taxpayers who would end up footing the bill for expenses they didn’t incur and from which they didn’t benefit.
The Biden administration recently took another step to address the high level of college debt, renewing a Barack Obama policy that Donald Trump had canceled. The rule threatens to cut federal funding to universities, colleges and career schools that leave students with debt that is higher than the salaries they can earn with the degrees, credentials and certificates they receive at those institutions.
The rule is scheduled to take effect next July.
Schools could be sanctioned if graduates’ student loan payments are 20% of their discretionary income or 8% of their total income. The program also will determine whether graduates earn more money than people with only high-school diplomas who are working in the same or similar jobs.
Some people welcome the regulation, although it also has drawn many complaints, and with good reason. The rule proposes punishment upon schools for a problem that the government itself helped create by promoting higher education for all high-school students and injecting billions of dollars every year into providing grants, scholarships and subsidizing some of the very loans for which it now is creating penalties.
It’s no secret that the cost of higher education has skyrocketed over the years — driven largely by that federal support.
Growing numbers of people now are questioning whether the benefits of a college education are really worth the ever-growing cost, and many students are choosing to forgo higher education when they leave high school.
And that is where the primary attention should begin: with a complete, honest evaluation by students and their families regarding their career goals, the requirements needed to meet those goals, whether higher education or specialized training is needed and whether the family can bear the cost of that education.
Education advocates have long touted data that show college graduates on average earn more than high-school graduates. Averages aren’t enough to make personal decisions regarding education, especially with regard to taking on significant debt to get it. Students should review their career goals as well as the opportunities for achieving them. An expensive college degree might not be worth the cost if it’s related to a profession or discipline for which the market is declining or the number of applicants is greater than the openings.
Regardless of how much the administration might try to regulate the cost of higher education, the greatest responsibility lies with individual students and their families to avoid incurring debt they can’t afford, especially if the income from an expected degree might not meet their hopes.