By Anonymous (not verified) on October 11, 2012

The politicization of student loan debt is nothing new, but it’s quickly becoming one of the hot button issues for both Presidential candidates.

In his speech on Bascom Hill, in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, President Obama preached to the student body: “Over the last four years, we’ve helped millions of students pay less for college, because we finally took on a system that was wasting billions of dollars on banks and lenders . . . I refuse to ask students to pay more for college.”

But in a system where the average student graduates with $27,000 in debt, the highest level to date, the wild applause that followed that statement was perhaps a little naive.

The Obama campaign has been clear in its goals to reduce student debt by subsidizing loans through programs such as the Stafford loans and Pell grants. The Romney campaign has no plan for student debt-other than asking your parents.

Republicans in Congress have also evaded the issue. In May, Congress couldn’t reach a conclusion after debating sustaining the 3.4 percent interest rate on the Stafford program for another year or doubling it to 6.8 percent. But as Mark Kantrowitz of The New York Times pointed out, arguing over these numbers is like fighting over nickels and cents. The percentage change represents about a $6 increase per month in payments, negligible in the grand scheme of things.

What’s really troubling is that Congress and the Presidential candidates are ignoring the glaring problems of student debt. Interest rates on student debt are astronomically high when compared to the record lows at which private sector debt stands today. The PLUS loan program for parents of college students has a 7.9 percent interest rate, with a 4 percent fee to boot, creating a profit for the government instead of maximum benefits for the recipient.

Bankruptcy laws have been historically unforgiving of students. In order to qualify for student loan bankruptcy, a student has to provide proof of a “certainty of hopelessness.”

Certain hopelessness is a good way to describe a vast portion of recent graduates. Many college students will take up to twenty-five years to pay off their student loans, which will be forgiven, says Obama, if one simply becomes a nurse, teacher, or serves in the military. But for those seeking a career outside of those three categories, proof of certain hopelessness may be the best way to get out from the mountain of loans.

The glossy college brochures high school seniors peruse don’t disclose is the real financial situation students are putting themselves into. Research has shown that many students miscalculate their student debt before they enter college and are unable to predict the type of salaries that they will have after graduation. Universities use every trick in the book to conceal student debt, which is why legislators like Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, are pushing for a standardized financial form.

Even if students comprehend the financial risk at stake as they enter college, Romney and Obama still miss the point on one big idea: They both fundamentally believe student debt as it currently stands is worth the trouble.

“We’ve always encouraged young people,” said Romney at a campaign speech in April, “Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education.”

“Take the risk,” said Romney, but “borrow money if you have to from your parents.” The fact of the matter is, most parents can’t help their kids with tuition the way they used to. Students now shoulder more of their debt than they have in the past, indicating that families, especially in the middle class have less flexibility in their own savings.

Obama’s speech in Madison stressed the need for some fundamental changes in the way Americans can grow and prosper “from the middle out.” But if either candidate hopes to help the middle class overcome student debt, marginally subsidizing loans and telling students to borrow from their parents isn’t going to cut it anymore.

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A plea to United States citizens to work for peace

An Indian journalist globally renowned as an advocate for the poor, Palagummi Sainath detailed the detrimental...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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