The fact that student loan debt might impose a greater burden than in the past on borrowers in Louisiana is a function of the choices made by them rather than in erroneous public policy.
Statistics show that nearly half of the class of 2012 in Louisiana graduated owing something. The average debt load was about $22,789. Further, an estimated one in 10 Louisiana graduates defaulted on federal student loan payments within two years of entering the repayment period.
But it’s illogical to assert that tuition rates at Louisiana colleges contributed much to this. After all, with the fourth lowest average tuition and fees rate in the country, in-state students here had a bargain compared to their peers in most states. Add to this that about a fifth of all college students in the state benefitted from a free ride on tuition, or more, from the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars that pays for tuition at state schools and in some cases even more, and it’s clear that taxpayers were putting up more than they should have to supplement a tertiary education to individuals who may not even stay in state once they graduated.
Colleges do bear some of the responsibility for escalating costs that could put students into debt. The old Louisiana model of accepting anybody (now actually limited somewhat with minimally meaningful admission standards for baccalaureate-and-above universities for the first time ever beginning last year) into any major area of study plays into the credentialing belief endemic among college students these days – that a bachelor’s degree of any kind, obtained by putting in a certain number of hours of study a week as determined by the student, is entitled to them and invariably leads to a good job in fields of their choices – gets encouraged by higher education that continues to allocate resources to areas of study according to politicized conceptions of what should be taught, not by the actual genuineness of the subject matter in contributing to an education in the liberal arts and/or economically useful major area of study. Culpability in this state of affairs will continue until institutions commit themselves to a mission of a broad liberal arts education, insulated from faddishness and politicization, onto which more specific, sometimes vocational or professional, courses of study are appended.
Yet policy-makers fool themselves if they think taxpayers must suffer increase support to provision of higher education, especially in Louisiana. As previously noted, comparing average tuition cost to per capita income Louisiana students actually underpay with taxpayers therefore having needlessly to subsidize students’ families. That their relative debt levels are low is an indicator of this excess capacity to pay. Thus, the yawping of special interests that claim it’s problematic that tuition has increased in its proportion of total higher education funding, particularly in Louisiana, has no merit.
Especially when analyzed in light of a study that shows, nationally, that costs for college – tuition and fees – essentially have tracked overall increases in all living costs relative to income levels and degrees sought of those degreed over the past couple of decades. This means that if somebody is having problems in paying off their student loans, it’s likely more a function of choosing a degree in an area that is less useful to employers – perhaps because it was not as demanding scholastically as others and/or trendier according to mass culture – which then causes unemployment or underemployment, or in choosing to change careers and/or pursuing advanced degrees, or from following a desire to consume more in the present rather than saving for future investments, than in any structural aspect of the American economy.
So whining about how Louisiana ought to ask taxpayers to pony up more to subsidize students – especially when their overall debt burden is among the lowest comparatively – actually suggests the opposite of what should be done, a continuation of the current policy of asking students’ families to pay a fair share for a service that disproportionately will benefit the student and working towards reaching that level. In fact, their educational experiences will be enhanced by their having to find ways to finance them, because the more they personally become invested in them, the more incentive they have to succeed. Thus, there’s no reason that Louisiana’s institutions of higher education should not continue to raise tuition levels until they find a market equilibrium.