Cost of student loan programs difficult for federal government to determine, study suggests

As students at schools such as Boston University graduate college with the burden of student loan debt, a report released Friday asserts that government leaders may struggle to predict in advance the costs associated with federal loan programs.

The report, which was issued by the United States Government Accountability Office, revealed it is impossible to determine interest rates for students who take out loans, which results in an inability to balance federal revenues and costs.

“America needs to invest in education and student loans are a very low-cost way of doing this,” said Randall Ellis, a professor of economics at BU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “… There’s a failure of the American system to distinguish failure from investment. When we lend money to our college students, we are investing in our future productivity and earnings and being a stronger economy.”

The report has sparked debate on whether the federal government or the students should bear the burden of student debts.

“Student loan rates should be set at rates that enable the government to either break-even on average, or … contain some subsidy on grounds of both promoting growth and equity,” said Dilip Mookherjee, also a CAS professor of economics. “The government, rather than students should bear the risk associated with fluctuations in market rates, but the cost of this risk does need to be factored in while setting the rate.”

Ellis said the pressure of paying off student loans often forces graduates to postpone the pursuit of other goals in favor of taking short-term jobs that often do not fit their goal profile.

“It forces them to take a more short-term horizon,” he said. “They’re less willing to go to graduate school and more in a hurry to get some kind of a job in order to start paying off their loans. It shifts the burden onto young college-age students instead of having it be a society’s burden, because it makes them have to pay the costs sooner.”

BU utilizes the Stafford Loan program, said BU spokesman Colin Riley. The funds are distributed to students through the university’s Financial Aid Office.

“Any loan that a student applies for and receives for higher education goes through the financial aid office to check on student eligibility,” Riley said. “Once that’s done, the money generally goes right to the university to pay for the student account.”

Students are not required to begin paying back the loans until six months after they graduate, Riley said.

Lizzy Ganssle, a CAS junior, said the pressure of paying off student loans forces her to postpone post-college goals to get a paying job.

“Paying them back is a stressful thing,” Ganssle said. “It could mean putting off other things I would want to do, like traveling, because I would need to have a job after I graduate so that I can pay them off.”

Chris Sung, a School of Management junior, said despite the burden of paying student loans, the education they provide enables the graduate to pay them off.

“It sets you back, because you want to start making money for your personal income, but you have to pay back money for student loans,” Sung said. “That puts you at a disadvantage, but I think that with the education you got, you can get a job that can pay back your loans.”

Jessie Johnson, a CAS freshman, said paying student loans after college places an enormous amount of stress on college graduates.

“Having to pay them off would definitely cause a lot of stress,” Johnson said. “They have the knowledge that once they get out, they have a huge debt to pay. It pushes people to get jobs quicker to pay off the loans, or else their debt will just get worse.”

2 Comments

  1. Student loans are becoming a debilitating stressor that many students have acquired with the hopes of finding employment that will allow them to provide for themselves after graduation. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and graduates struggle to pay back their debts while searching for decent jobs.

  2. It is essential that we invest in our students to allow them to reach their full potential and contribute to society in the area that are well trained. If we do invest in our students then we will see a return on that investment.

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