As politicians stumble over themselves to agree on a legislative no-brainer — keeping student loan rates low — they are missing a bigger issue for many students and recent graduates: Student loan debt.
In a compelling new opinion piece posted on CNN.com , DIY U author Anya Kamenetz  (Chelsea Green, 2010) argues that politicians should be focusing on debt forgiveness, not just keeping loan rates low.
Some recent polls have shown that support for Obama among young voters, once Obama’s enthusiastic fans, may be waning in this election compared with four years ago. Student loans are seen by some as the president’s chosen key to regaining their hearts. But really, the issue has been raised for him by the Occupy movement, gearing up this May 1 with a new set of actions focusing on the cost of college and the depredations of the student loan industry.
Additionally, almost 700,000 people have signed a petition sponsored by MoveOn.org for student loan forgiveness, started by lawyer and student-loan debtor Robert Applebaum. And the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, introduced by U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Michigan, last month, is aimed at offering relief.
What’s at stake here is the basic equation of the American dream: Hard work plus merit equals opportunity. As usually happens, hard times have led to cuts in support to public education and attendant tuition hikes. Young people are graduating into a dismal job market with an average of more than $25,000 in debt. Loan default rates were up sharply last year, and many graduates are questioning the value of their education. In eight years of covering and advocating for student debtors, I’ve never seen such a level of public outcry.
In lieu of this renewed, election year interest in young folks (ahem) we here at Chelsea Green are offering a free download of a particularly salient chapter from Kamenetz’s 2010 book that leads off with – ironically enough – candidate Barack Obama at a Hofstra University forum on the rising cost of higher education.
Kamenetz then walks readers through just how this generation of students is facing some of the most crushing debtloads in order to attend post-secondary institutions. She also expertly lays out a three-part plan to reduce the overall cost of higher ed in the United States, including a call to restore free college tuition. Colleges didn’t always cost so much, and there are even some out there today where students graduate debt-free. What a concept.