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May 13, 2010 12:50 PM Debt U

By Daniel Luzer

Now that it’s college graduation season—and companies still aren’t really hiring—many journalists are looking at the debt college graduates carry. According to an article by Wayne Washington at Charleston, South Carolina’s Post and Courier:

South Carolina ranks second among 11 Southern states in the average amount of debt its student-borrowers left school with in 2008, according to the Project on Student Debt, a research initiative of the Institute for College Access and Success.
Student debt rose sharply from 2004 to 2008, according to figures from the Project on Student Debt. At public universities across the country, students graduated in 2008 with an average of $20,200 in debt, a 20 percent increase from 2004.

The average South Carolina college graduate carries $21,157 in debt. What’s the state doing to address that issue? Well, according to the article the state flagship public university, the University of South Carolina offers “counseling… a financial literacy program and altering the school’s University 101 course to include a section on financial management.”

Of course, it would be far easier to manage one’s finances without five figures worth of debt. The Chronicle of Higher Education weighs in on this issue too. Professor Pennywise explains that:

Moralists may blame your debt on character defect, but given a lousy job market… usurious interest rates on credit cards and private loans, and stagnant real wages for most Americans, your debt most likely has some origins beyond your control.

No kidding. His solutions, however, are all about “buy only the life you can afford,” “paying off the lowest-balance credit card first,” and “call your creditors.” These very well might be good personal strategies but isn’t this a bigger problem? These used to be the sort of money tactics that were only relevant to financial deadbeats.

This isn’t like credit card debt. Student loan debt is not actually a function of student’s responsibility. No one really thinks the South Carolina students have such high debt because South Carolina schools just encourage profligate spending (“Sure, another class! Why ever not?”).

A better solution might address the root cause of the problem? Why does South Carolina charge more in tuition than South Carolina families can afford? How much can students and families really afford to spend on education? And, perhaps most importantly, how important is it for students to be able to access affordable education?

There’s only so far “financial literacy” can take someone. No debt would be a far better way to promote healthy savings and responsible spending.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Brenda Helverson on May 14, 2010 1:13 AM:

    I read a good article some years ago (wish I remembered where) that made the case that the student loan racket was one of the biggest drivers of tuition because instead of waiting for their money, like with a student payment plan, the college got the money immediately. As basically soulless and greedy people, the Educrats couldn't resist increasing their payday as often as possible. And you haven't seen luxurious surroundings and redundant assistants until you have been in a college administration building.