As the May 1 deadline for our University’s financial aid application approaches, now is the time to consider the many students on our campus and across the country who are facing the harsh reality of their mounting student debt. While financial concerns weigh heavily on the minds of debt-laden students, this issue extends beyond college campuses, and has recently become a hot topic on the national stage. In the past several days, both likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have addressed the increasing costs of college loans in an effort to win young voters, who comprise an important demographic in many swing states.
The discussion surrounding this issue was prompted by the upcoming July 1 deadline, when the current 3.4 percent interest rate on federal student loans is set to double to 6.8 percent. According to the Huffington Post, this rate hike will affect an estimated 7 million students at an average cost of $1,000 per student. The widespread impact of this rate hike is troubling to both parties, who now face millions of voters under 30 with both bleak job prospects and an estimated two-thirds of the $1 trillion in student loan debt now held in the United States.
With this problem at the forefront of election year politics, we get to see a rare moment of ideological harmony between Romney and Obama; both have called for an extension of the current interest rate. While this news may come as a relief to many a debt-strapped college student, it is unclear whether either candidate truly believes on principle that this rate should be extended. All of their carefully crafted decisions should be cast into some doubt in light of the looming election, and this one is certainly no exception.
Support for the extension is especially dubious coming from Romney, who has so far campaigned on a platform of limited government, saying in March, “It would be popular for me to stand up and say, ‘I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college,’ but I’m not going to promise that.” This statement seems at odds with his more recently declared support for a measure that would cost the government billions of dollars.
But is an extension on low federal loan interest rates what our generation really needs? As a young voter facing the very real prospect of college debt, I knew what I was getting into when I decided to go to an expensive college with the hope that my education would someday lead to a lucrative career. I am ready to take on responsible levels of debt and have put in the work to understand what a tolerable level of debt is for my personal situation. Rather, what our generation really needs is confidence in the government’s willingness to create an environment where hard work and talent will be the main drivers of prosperity in society. We all must confront the economic climate that awaits us upon graduation, and, eventually, we will all face the consequences of the decisions that our leaders make today.
While I will admit my views are evolving, I would like to think that my generation is too politically savvy to be wooed by a simple issue like low interest rates on student loans. I understand that most people have a tendency to call on the government for more benefits when it is personally advantageous, but what we need is a long term, comprehensive reform of policies that trades short term benefits for long term prosperity. I want brave leadership that will tackle impending issues like social security and our inefficient tax code, as well as reform a political system that seems to utterly disregard matters beyond the present moment. Yes, my hopes are idealistic—but the decisions that politicians make today are going to shape the economic, political, and social environment that I will have to contend with for the rest of my life.
Some of this idealism, however misguided, was captured in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Sadly, the unrealistically high expectations that swept him into office have yet to be met. As a result, I’d expect that voter participation in younger demographics will be considerably lower this November, since young people, and the country in general, lack enthusiasm for the race or for politics in general.
As the up and coming generation, we must make it known that we will not stand to see our futures squandered by policies that are robbing our country of its potential. I have faith in the intellect and drive of my peers to come up with innovative ideas and to make the big changes necessary to set America on a track to prosperity, but we must start by rejecting the political paradigm that is slowly suffocating our country and let it be known that we are the masters of our future.
Dillon Cory is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.