Student debt must be of chief concern for higher education

According to a report from the New York Times, “41 million Americans owe $1.2 trillion in student loan debt” the “median debt burden among borrowers was $20,000 in 2014, up from $13,000 in 2007.” As schools continue to pour resources into infrastructure and expansion, student debt must continue to be of chief concern. While earmarking resources in order to make universities more attractive and innovative serves to increase the value of one’s degree, leaving with substantial debt only serves to handicap graduates and lessen the real value of their education. 

The U.S. Department of Education calculated a 7.7 percent increase in public, 4-year college tuition over the 2011-12 to 2013-14 terms. For private, 4-year institutions, that rate was slightly higher at 7.9 percent. At the same time, schools such as the University of Connecticut have continued to attract public and private funds for massive expansion of infrastructure, capability and staff. The 2013 approval of the “Next Generation Connecticut” plan contributed $1.5 billion to UConn over the coming years, as an “investment in building new scientific laboratories, purchasing advanced equipment, constructing new classrooms, and adding housing.” 

While investing in a school’s campus is crucial, if those investments cause an increase in tuition, then more debate must occur. Student debt often does not come into consideration for its invisible and long-term aspect; it does not have the same tangible impact on a campus as aging infrastructure and rankings. If institutions are committed to their students, then debt calculations must play a role in university investment considerations.

If universities were to concern themselves with student debt, they would also have the opportunity to revive modest alumni donations. If students graduate without substantial debt, and are capable of finding gainful employment quickly, there is a better chance that those students will give back to their schools. Though the allure of one-time donations is clear in modern university and college dynamics, small donations from alumni carry weight. It speaks well of a university if their students are willing to, without massive personal wealth, donate portions of their income back to their alma mater.   

Another aspect of student loans discussed in the New York Times piece is the unintentional ignorance of student loan borrowers in their options for repayment. As student debt and student loans will be a factor for the foreseeable future, universities and colleges should, at the minimum, take the time to develop methods for actively educating their students on debt and their rights in repaying loans, especially federal loans. This sort of education is often available, but reforming the process of receiving such education would provide inexpensive and invaluable education for future alumni. 

While universities cannot divert all their investment resources towards lowering tuition and student costs, they are clear opportunities available. It is in the institutions best interest to lower alumni debt. Doing so will ensure that students graduate with not only an education but a more realistic opportunity for a reasonable level economic security in the not so distant future.