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By Kathryn Wing
January 16, 2014
Caption : The Center for American Progress' Faith team released a report, Real Family Values: Making College Affordable and Alleviating Student Loan Debt, about how equality and fairness influence student debt.     

The Center for American Progress’ (CAP) Faith team released a report this week entitled Real Family Values: Making College Affordable and Alleviating Student Loan Debt, which focuses on two American values—equality and fairness—as the lens to their policy suggestions for college affordability.

Equality has been and continues to be a core foundation of this country: that all are created equal.  With tuition rates increasing more than 250 percent over the last three decades compared to only 16 percent for the average family’s income over the same period of time, there is an obvious discrepancy.

Not only is financial access to higher education impractical for many, but these degrees are in demand for better wages and entry into the job market. Over the next five years, 63 percent of job openings will require at least some college education. These jobs also pay almost twice the wages as a worker with only a high school diploma. Limiting access to only those who can afford higher education also limits social and economic mobility.

Just as equality is a core foundation of this country’s structure, so too is fairness a core foundation to the structure of families and communities. We are merit driven and expect the same opportunities to be offered to all. Student loan debt forgoes these opportunities as well as delays other life purchases such as buying cars, houses, and everyday commodities that help fuel the overall U.S. economy.

In 2010, 19 percent of U.S. households reported owing some amount of debt—a 15 percent increase since 2007. In addition, the average about of debt rose to $27,000 in 2012 compared to $17,233 in 2005. These increases have mostly been on the backs of lower-middle income students who tend to hold an average of $9,200 of debt more than their peers.

Lower-middle income students are not the only ones being marginalized. Women and minorities still typically get paid cents to the dollar compared to white men which makes paying off loans more difficult, further expanding America’s gender wage gap.

CAP’s Faith report provides suggestions on how to address the collapsing core values of equality and fairness which we rely on as a country.

First, college needs to be made more affordable. This can be done by expanding consumers’ access to information about colleges by expanding the U.S. Department of Education’s college scorecard and having Congress to increase the buying power of federal aid by providing an additional $20 billion for Pell Grants between 2018 and 2022.

The second suggestion in the report considers concerns easing the burden of repaying student loans. This can be done by allowing students to refinance their student loans, making income-based repayment the default option for federal loans, and having Congress establish Qualified Student Loans that would create clear and public standards for loans that cannot be discharged easily in the event of bankruptcy.

In a country founded on equality and fairness, economic inequalities should not reserve higher education for the elite few. Rising tuition costs perpetuate such economic, gender, and racial inequalities; therefore, it is crucial we address such problems with viable solutions with America’s core values.

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