As of Wednesday, American students who have taken out loans to pay for school are collectively $1 trillion in debt, a number that has the UW-Madison campus, the president and even Jimmy Fallon taking note.
On Library Mall, students gathered to sign a “Wall of Debt” in protest of rising student debt, which has now exceeded credit card debt in the U.S.
“We are paying more, getting less and it’s getting worse,” said Seth Hoffmeister, President of United Council of UW Students. Hoffmeister said the issue seems to be gaining more national attention and is becoming an important campaign topic.
As a testament to the growing importance of the issue, President Barack Obama has visited the University of North Carolina, the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado-Boulder to speak about student debt.
The president even appeared on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” Tuesday to talk about student loan debt on a segment called “Slow Jam the News.”
Unless Congress does something to keep interest rates for student loans at their current 3.4 percent, they will rise to 6.8 percent in July. In a surprising show of bipartisan agreement, both Obama and likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have said they want to freeze the interest rate at its current level, at least temporarily.
“Helping more of our young people afford college should be at the forefront of America’s agenda,” Obama said at a speech Wednesday in Colorado. “It shouldn’t be a Democratic or a Republican issue. They have to prevent the interest rates on federal student loans from shooting up and shaking you down.”
UW-Madison Professor of educational policy studies and sociology Sara Goldrick-Rab agrees.
“Interest rates shouldn’t and needn’t go up,” Goldrick-Rab said in an email to The Daily Cardinal. “Those loan dollars are going straight to executive compensation, making the rich even richer. Stop that, and debt will stop rising so dramatically.”
But Director of the UW-Madison Student Financial Aid office Susan Fischer said part of the problem is not that the amount of Madison students taking out loans is increasing, but the amount of money they are borrowing out has increased. Also, according to Fischer, half of the students who borrow money do not have a demonstrated need to do so.
“They are borrowing because they can,” Fischer said. “If it is available they will take it.”