Chances are if you’re reading this, you have student loan debt. You may have a federal subsidized or unsubsidized loan, a loan through your school or your parents may have even taken out a plus loan to help cover the costs of your education.
Between my younger brother and I, we will have accrued more than $16,000 in debt by the time we both graduate from college. Our father owns a small landscaping business, and our mother manages our organic family farm. Our family earns enough money to get by, but if not for Cal Grants, Pell Grants and scholarships, neither my brother nor I would be able to afford to attend college — and even with financial aid, we will still graduate with debt. The fact of the matter is that higher education is becoming less and less affordable for millions of students across the United States.
President Obama’s stance on higher education affordability has always been strong. Since coming into office, he has worked to help students in their quest for education. If you are enrolled in the “pay as you earn” program, no more than 10 percent of your monthly income can go toward college loan payments, preventing banks from amassing large profits from student loans. The maximum award for Pell Grants has increased by more than $900 since 2008, while the number of recipients has increased by 50 percent. Many students at UC Berkeley have benefited from increased Pell Grants, as nearly 40 percent of undergraduates are recipients, myself included.
In August, the president rolled out even more ideas for higher education reform that will help millions of students coast to coast. The first step of the process will be a scorecard system to help students get more “bang for their buck.” Rather than rating trivial criteria such as dorms and attractiveness of the male or female population, this scoring system will be based purely on the institution’s ability to give you a strong education at a fair price. This means that universities such as UC Berkeley that offer a quality education for a comparatively low price will receive high scores and more federal aid.
The second step of this process will be providing incentives to schools that are experimenting with ways to save students’ money. These programs include competence-based graduation requirement programs. Programs like this allow students to graduate based on acquiring the knowledge needed for their degree rather than spending long hours in classes that neither challenge them nor help them with their career prospects. This process would also offer joint programs with high schools so students can get a jump-start on their degree and reduce the cost of college.
The president also plans to raise awareness of the “pay as you earn” program that caps loan payments at 10 percent of monthly income, which is already helping about 2.5 million students. This is a program I am personally very grateful for, as I plan to work in the public sector after I graduate.
During an address in August, Obama said, “Higher education shouldn’t be a luxury or a roll of the dice; it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”
To ensure the United States has a strong economy and competent workforce, we absolutely must prioritize addressing higher education affordability. Every American, regardless of economic means, should be able to afford a quality education. Obama knows this and is leading the charge in addressing this issue with his education plan. I implore you to stand with me and stand with the president in supporting education reforms that will benefit millions of students and their families across the country.
Nicholas Kitchel is the national council secretary of College Democrats of America and a senior at UC Berkeley.