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Editorial: Obama's plan key step in affordable education

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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The United States has taken a monumentally important step toward ensuring the well-being of those interested in pursuing higher education. On June 9, President Barack Obama announced an overhaul of current student federal loans that will make college substantially more affordable for millions of Americans. Considering the overall improvement education gives society, as well as the how commonplace and expected that college diplomas are when searching for many jobs, we at The Daily Iowan Editorial Board applaud the president’s new student-loan plan.

The biggest and best-known portion of the announced new plan is the expansion of the Pay As You Earn option. The option, which began in December 2012, allows some graduates to cap payments at 10 percent of their disposable income, with complete loan forgiveness after 20 years for those working in the private sector. As it stands, the program is not available for those with loans accrued before October 2007. Those who have not borrowed since October 2011 are also ineligible. These two groups will be eligible for the program’s benefits starting in 2015, a move that will benefit nearly 5 million more Americans, according to a factsheet released on the White House website. 

The new plan also includes improvements relating to loan forgiveness for active-duty military members and promoting awareness of repayment options and tax benefits for current students and graduates. This would include working with the nation’s two largest tax-preparation services, Intuit Inc. and H&R Block, to spread the word. It also includes spreading information about the cost of college, helping families and individuals decide what’s best for their budget.

Considering a national average student loan debt of $29,400 — University of Iowa students average just above that number — experienced by 71 percent of college graduates, it’s high time that the United States works to help those pursuing postsecondary education. Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, protecting our most valuable resource — our young academics — should be an easy priority to understand.

How the government goes about doing so is under debate. Currently, Obama’s publicized plan has no specific budget, and politicians from both parties are working out the details. There have been talks of raising taxes for the wealthy, though many GOP members disagree with that prospect.

Regardless of where the money comes from, a brief reality check helps to clarify why it’s so important to provide aid for students. The Pay As You Earn option is designed to help individuals who fall at or below 150 percent of the poverty line, $17,235 for an individual in 2013 in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. Considering a high unemployment rate for college graduates ages 20 to 29 — 13.5 percent as last reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and the generally increasing cost of living, any little bit helps.

Also important to note is the decreasing sense of prestige associated with having a college diploma, correspondingly resulting in an increase of the number of employers who require the piece of paper even when considering candidates for low-skill, entry-level positions. A college degree is the contemporary high-school diploma, and it’s becoming more difficult to succeed without one. 

While Obama’s new plan is facing criticism from a number of different sources, it’s a necessary first step toward fostering better learning in the United States. We hope politicians will continue promoting postsecondary education.


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