ASOSU notices student debt total flirting with the $1 trillion mark
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 01:01
There are two metaphorical clocks students watch as they make their way through college: the tuition clock and the debt clock. Tuition has continually increased for the past five years, as has student debt.
As the student debt clock closes in on $1 trillion — or continues to grow beyond that total depending on the source — ASOSU is helping advocate to at least slow it down.
In 2011, the Project on Student Loan Debt at the Institute for Academic Success released a study that broke student loan debt down by each state. The report says “two thirds of college seniors who graduated in 2011 had student loan debt, with an average of $26,600 per borrower.”
Oregon sits right below the national average at $25,497, and 63 percent of the 2011 college graduates were in debt.
While the issue of student debt is dealt with at the federal government level, state management of higher education can affect student debt. ASOSU President Amelia Harris believes a larger investment in higher education on part of the state could help relieve the debt burden many students are dealing with.
“Oregon ranks as the 46th lowest state for per-student funding,” Harris said. “That is very, very concerning ... we need a change in the system.”
Where did students sit seven years ago?
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which has statistics of student loan debt since 2005, major increases have incurred in the last few years. Since 2005, the student debt total has grown by about $500 billion, from $363 billion to their current total of $902 billion. The total debt has doubled since 2007.
It seems this is a generational problem. People under the age of 30 make up one third of the $902 billion total, and by adding nine years to that demographic, people under the age of 39 currently hold $599 billion of the total.
OSU did not provide information on the average debt of their 2011 graduates or the percentage of graduates graduating in debt for the student debt report. In 2011, the percentage of students graduating with debt from public four-year universities in the state of Oregon varied, but still remained above 50 percent. At 92 percent, Eastern Oregon University was the highest of the institutions, and the University of Oregon was the lowest at 53 percent. Not every four-year institution provided information for the report – OSU was one of them.
According to Harris, aside from just increasing the funding for the Oregon University System, there are multiple areas to work on within the student debt issue. Passing a debt forgiveness bill that would change the payback requirements is one. The Student Loan Forgiveness Act was presented nationally in 2012, and wished to reform the borrowing laws established by the Higher Education Act of 1965. Essentially the amendments would allow for students to default on their student loans after making monthly payments for 10 years.
Other changes can be made by removing the stipulation that students who file for bankruptcy are not exempt from any amount of their student loan debt, as they would be from other forms of accumulated debt, and limiting the ability for private institutions to go after potential student debtors.
Harris and ASOSU are currently working with the Oregon Students Association, a state-level student advocacy group, and a national student advocacy group, United State Student Association, which both endorse the passing of this legislation. A little more than a million people have also signed a petition for this legislation to be put into effect.
For now, higher funding is still the goal for ASOSU and other student governments across the state. According to Harris, the Governor’s proposed budget of $750 million to the Oregon University System needs to be increased to $850 million just to stay at current operating levels. Anything lower will result in tuition increases on campus.
While the majority of the battle over student debt will be handled at the nation’s capital, work in the state is still done to offset a rise in tuition and debt. Constant lobby visits and endless budget meetings are taking up most of that work.
“We are not just standing on the sidelines complaining about funding,” Harris said. “I think we have done a lot to increase student visibility at the capital. You just have to keep fighting.”
Ricky Zipp, news reporter