SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

May 16, 2013

Tierney: Student loan debt a generational crisis

Overwhelming. Crushing. Nightmarish. These are just some of the words local residents use when they describe their student loan debt burden to me. Many share how they have been dutifully making their payments, but their debt has caused them to indefinitely postpone certain “life decisions” such as buying a car, owning a home, or starting a family. I know parents who are anxious and concerned about the debt their sons and daughters have accumulated. Some of these parents have delayed retirement or made early withdrawals from their 401(k) to help with their child’s student loan debt.

Student loan debt is a crisis that is impacting generations of Americans, and it demands the full and immediate attention of Congress. Those about to enter college, and some now attending, are too often forced to consider not enrolling, delaying enrollment or dropping out because of the shock factor of looming loan obligations.

In the near term, Congress must again take action to ensure that the rate on a particular Stafford loan does not double on July 1. If Congress does not act, more than 7 million students will incur an estimated $4.3 billion in repayment costs for the 2013-2014 academic school year.

However, we must not stop there. To help as many of the 37 million student loan borrowers — those in school, those graduates, and those forced to drop out while still having debt — as possible, longer-term solutions are desperately needed.

There is something glaringly unjust when Wall Street banks whose reckless behavior nearly brought this country’s financial system to ruin can access “easy” or “cheap” money while students and families have to pay steep interest rates in order to pursue the American Dream. Our political rhetoric speaks to the need for college graduates — for personal opportunity and economic growth — so our policy actions must follow suit.

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