Morehouse

At a time when nationwide, youth-led protests have focused media attention on college graduates’ mounting student loan burdens, Republican presidential candidates have begun addressing this issue. Their attacks on the federal student loan program fail to pose coherent solutions.

Republican frontrunner Herman Cain pointedly attacked federal student aid programs, arguing that “people living within communities” bear the ultimate responsibility of helping fund their students’ college educations, according to Politico. Essentially, students from wealthy enclaves such as Westchester, N.Y., should have no issue soliciting financing, but where should students from lower-income areas miraculously find their own Daddy Warbucks?

Perhaps Cain could pontificate about getting rid of federal student loans at his alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta. CollegeData.com tells us that a whopping 99.4 percent of Morehouse undergraduates applied for such aid, all of whom received it. And when the same site lists Morehouse’s annual tuition at $23,520, who can blame them?

Cain, who habitually touts himself as a self-made man and has said “blame yourself” to Occupy Wall Street protesters for not being rich, fails to note that he went to college at a time — 1963 to 1967 — when tuition was comparatively far lower, even after accounting for inflation. Writing in The Black Student’s Guide to College Success, Cain noted that he got a tuition scholarship to Morehouse for his first year, and “when that ran out, the money my dad had been saving since I was in 10th grade kicked in along with money earned from part-time and summer jobs.”

Could you find someone in your home community willing to help you pay for leftover costs? How about your father? Barring the fortunate few whose parents can cut such checks each semester, I’d make a safe bet the thousands of us on financial aid would struggle under stagnating wages for college student jobs coupled with ever-increasing tuition. What Herman Cain doesn’t get is that we all work hard, yet industriousness alone doesn’t cover the bills.

Another GOP contender, Newt Gingrich, went even further by calling for the entire student loan industry to return to the private sector. But as MSNBC notes, “private loans almost always cost more than government loans, and lenders don’t extend the grace periods, deferments and other accommodations that are built into the federally backed loans.”

And loans for students operate differently than loans for home owners. Americans with toxic mortgages were able to walk away from foreclosed houses seized by their banks. A 2005 federal law pushed by Republicans made it virtually impossible to discharge private student loans in bankruptcy court.

Translation? The folks who give you a private student loan are essentially guaranteed to get their money back from you. If you can’t pay private loans back, the IRS will take out a chunk of your paycheck for your entire working life, and even draw from your Social Security checks, until the lenders get fully repaid. Of course, the law effectively encourages private lenders to offer you money, but you’ll have little recourse from debt relief upon graduation.

Another Republican contender, libertarian Ron Paul, echoed Gingrich’s views on re-privatization, though Paul insisted such an effort to axe the federal student loan program would be gradual rather than immediate. Paul wrote in a USA Today op-ed last week that students would be most helped “by eventually transitioning student aid away from the inefficient and ineffective federal government and back to local governments and private market-based solutions — which simply work better.”

Paul couldn’t be more wrong. Unless you have an impeccable credit history — few 18- to 22-year olds do — you’ll probably need a co-signer such as a parent to get any attractive private loans. Federal loans, on the other hand, are open to all full-time students. Uncle Sam generally won’t consider you defaulted on those loans unless you’ve missed payments for more than nine months. Some private lenders, however, can consider a borrower in default after the first missed payment, according to USA Today.

Student loan reform should be a top priority for government in the next several years, at least because such debts are an increasingly untenable burden on U.S. graduates. Republican candidates should face increasing scrutiny on their proposals that affect so many UT students.

Quazi is a nursing graduate student.