Editorial: Student loans burden taxpayers

The Detroit News

In his mission to make college more affordable, President Barack Obama has placed U.S. taxpayers on the hook for billions of student loan debt. The costs of higher education deserve attention, but simply transferring the debt burden is not how to handle it.

At several points during his presidency, Obama has stepped in to cap how much borrowers must pay on their loans, based on their income, in addition to expanding the pool eligible for loan forgiveness.

Student debt now stands at more than $1 trillion. Making all taxpayers cover the cost of loans taken out by individuals isn’t fair.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office highlights just how much money is on the line for taxpayers. The federal government could forgive more than $100 billion of student loan debt in coming years. No surprise, that number is much higher than what the Obama administration predicted. The Education Department had initially put the number at $74 billion. The GAO blames the discrepancy on the failure of the department to factor in inflation and an increasing number of student borrowers.

The government is firmly entrenched in the student loan business, controlling about $150 billion each year in federal loans and grants.

Student loan defaults and slow debt repayment are costing Americans, whether they racked up any loan debt or not.

College costs have risen exponentially in recent decades, in large part due to the federal government’s growing involvement in loans and other forms of aid. Universities are well aware students have easy lines of credit available and so they are less reluctant to hike tuition.

And with more loans being forgiven, the consequences of tuition hikes for students are even smaller.

Many education experts warn about the growing risks of federal involvement in student loans.

“There’s no doubt that excessive student loan debt is a drag on our economy,” write Lindsey Burke and Andrew Kloster of the Heritage Foundation. “And there’s also no doubt that it is largely caused by federal money and regulations pushing up the cost of college. But there is no easy silver bullet to immediately fix this massive problem, and it is irresponsible to make promises we can’t keep.”

The Accountability Office, which presented its report to Congress, states that the Education Department has “generally agreed” with proposed remedies, including adjusting borrower income forecasts for inflation, completing planned model revisions and ensuring that they generate reasonable predictions of participation trends, and testing key assumptions.

Given what’s at stake for taxpayers the department should wholeheartedly get on board.

And once Michigan’s Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of education, takes over, she should take a hard look at the government’s involvement in loans and address these looming costs.