Students fight for college affordability

The student loan industry has become a predatory, lucrative business.
Megan Stroup / Graphic Designer

As tuition costs rise in colleges across the country, students and borrowers are banding together to combat student loan companies and the universities that are raising the education costs.

Since the Higher Education Act was amended in 1997, the student loan industry has become a lucrative business that has college students, graduates and dropouts scraping to make their monthly payments.

The amendment increases penalties and fees for defaulted student loans, removes bankruptcy protection and disallows refinancing of the debt.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of going to a public college or university in the U.S. rose from $6,800 per year in 1997 to an estimated $11,000 per year in 2007.

For years, the student loan industry has made billions of dollars off defaulted loans via high interest rates.

Alan Collinge, author of "The Student Loan Scam" and founder of the political action committee, Student Loan Justice, has decided to do something about it.

Collinge, a 1999 graduate of the University of Southern California, still has outstanding student loans.

"The cost of tuition has risen double the inflation rate," Collinge said. "It's directly related to predatory loan system."

Collinge's organization is fighting for protections that they feel all consumers deserve with student loans. Collinge said he and his group toured the country in 2007 to lobby U.S. senators and representatives in Congressional committees.

"I was extremely disappointed," Collinge said about the tour. "What I found was the staffers of these politicians were, at best, ignorant to the issue and, at worst, frankly didn't care."

As the economy worsens and tuition and demand for higher education continue to rise, government leaders have begun to take action.

President Barack Obama's education agenda targets the affordability of higher education. The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which is part of the federal stimulus package passed in February, is a fully refundable credit that would provide the first $4,000 of a college education to most Americans in exchange for 100 community service hours.

Ally Walker, legislative director of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, said she remains optimistic about higher education affordability in Missouri. She said the state has tuition caps to prevent rates from rising higher than the rate of inflation, as well as the Textbook Transparency Act, which keeps textbook prices low.

Walker said the act was "the first step to having a more transparent, communicative relationship with textbook companies."

At MU, tuition rose 4.1 percent this year from 2008. Attending MU will cost the incoming freshman class $8,476 for a full academic year for in-state students. UM system President Gary Forsee has agreed not to raise tuition if there is no drop in state money to the university.

Not all college students in the U.S. can depend on such a promise.

At New York University, a student group called Take Back NYU protested increases in their tuition.

Take Back NYU spokeswoman Emily Stainkamp said almost all the students worked at least one work-study job to help pay for school, if not two.

"Almost no one gets their financial need met," Stainkamp said.

Since NYU is a private university, they are not obligated to tell where they are spending the money that students pay to be at the school, Stainkamp said.

Take Back NYU spokeswoman Anna Mullen said she fears NYU will become an "elitist environment" if tuition costs don't subside.

Collinge said students should explore other avenues when looking to pay for college, such as opposed to scholarships, works study programs and grants as opposed to a loan.

"It can turn an American dream to an American nightmare," he said.

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