Want to End Student Debt? Make College 3 Years

The student debt crisis has reached epic proportions. The federal government and institutions of higher learning must take action, or the situation will have a dramatic effect on educational performance in the United States in years to come.

According to an article in Mother Jones, 38 million Americans have borrowed a total of approximately $1 trillion in student debt, a figure that has quadrupled over the last 10 years. The average cost of a year's tuition at a four-year college has increased from $8,700 to $21,600 since 1980. Overall, tuition increased over 500% during this period, while the Consumer Price Index rose about 150%.

Student loans will burden individuals for many years after graduation. Given the current job market, young people are rightly concerned about defaulting on their obligations. People old and young are starting to question whether a college education is worth the cost. Statistics from American Student Assistance, a nonprofit that helps people manage and repay student loan debt, show the following:

-Federal student debt totals $869 billion.

-Twenty million students are currently attending college. Twelve million (60%) borrow annually to cover costs.

-In 2012, there were 14 million people with student debt who were under the age of 30, 10.6 million people between the ages of 30 and 39, 5.7 million people between the ages of 40 and 49, and 2.2 million people over the age of 60.

-One-quarter of borrowers have more than $28,000 outstanding, 10% more than $54,000, 3% more than $100,000, and 1% more than $200,000.

-The class of 2011 borrowed $27,000 on average, 5% more than the class of 2010.

-Of the outstanding borrowers, 14% are past due in their payments. The 2010 default rate was 9.1%, up from 8.8% in 2009. In all, 41% of borrowers were delinquent at some point during the first five years of their loan.

-Between 2004 and 2009, 33% of those who left college without a degree were delinquent, and 26% were in default. 21% of students with credentials were delinquent, and 16% were in default.

-In 2010, those aged 25 to 34 with a Bachelor of Arts degree earned 114% more than someone without a high school degree, 50% more than someone with a high school degree, and 22% more than someone with an associate’s degree.

This month, the rate on student loans will spike from 3.4% to 6.8%, further exacerbating the situation. This issue, as expected, has become a political football in Congress. The outcome is uncertain.

There have been a number of suggestions as to how best to assist college students, from capping tuition, to subsidizing students with taxpayer money, to forcing schools with large endowments to help needy students. None of these proposals has gained any significant traction at this point.

My proposal could dramatically decrease overall college costs for prospective students, but would not assist those with outstanding debt. In short, the college experience could be shortened by one year. Students would be required to complete a four-year program in three years by increasing their workload. The amount of free time at colleges for extracurricular activities is a bit excessive, and can be decreased without great impact. If it costs $40,000 per year to attend a first-rate college, and $160,000 to obtain a degree, the total tuition paid would be reduced to $120,000 for the same educational experience. Students would enter the workforce a year earlier, and do so with 25% less debt.

This proposal would not impose too great of a great strain on colleges, as professors would not be required to work longer terms. They would, however, be required to teach more students during the year. This means that costs would not increase materially for the institutions, although professors will likely resist these changes. Schools would not experience lower admissions rates, as the most selective colleges are currently accepting far less than 20% of applicants.

The most important downside is that the college "experience" would be diluted. To an extent, the social aspect of school would be affected, as less time would be available for student interaction, with more time dedicated to study.

Variations on this proposal could include the ability to take courses online and at home, in lieu of a senior year. The cost of this method of teaching would be significantly lower than having students on campus.

The fourth year could also be an internship in the student’s field of study that would result in college credit. This would increase the student's chances of landing full-time employment with the companies with which they interned.

The wrong way to approach the student-debt crisis is to create another entitlement. Taxpayers should not be responsible for this burden.

To date, there has been disappointingly little creativity relating to solving the problem of student debt, and so students' apprehensions and complaints continue to mount. We have been hearing cries from millennials about this situation for years. The response from the federal government and the country's college intelligentsia deserves no more than a C- at this point.