College aid: Obama's plan eases the debt of education

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A college degree is the surest path to a comfortable lifestyle, but the cost of a degree keeps rising. With state governments unable to help, President Barack Obama is offering some relief.

The College Board reports that average in-state tuition at four-year public colleges and universities rose this year by 8.3 percent. Setting aside California's 21 percent tuition hike, costs at public four-year schools in the rest of the country increased by 7 percent, the same rate as in Pennsylvania, where the average cost rose from $11,331 last fall to $12,079 today.

To help offset these increases, the federal government has increased aid to students. Annual spending on Pell Grants has nearly doubled since 2009, to $35 billion. Tuition and other tax credits were expanded two years ago, and now amount to almost $15 billion.

Still, rising tuition costs and student loan debt of $1 trillion this year are among the concerns mentioned by many of the young people in the Occupy protests. In response, President Obama has announced a plan to help ease the education-debt burden.

He is speeding up, from 2014 to 2012, the effective date of a law reducing the maximum annual payment on student loans, from 15 percent to 10 percent of discretionary income. Student loan debts will be forgiven after 20 years, down from 25 years. Millions of borrowers will be able to repay more of their debt at lower interest rates -- and that will encourage bright young people to pursue the education America needs to remain a world leader in critical fields like math, science, medicine and technology.

President Obama says he wants America "to win the future," and that means "we should do everything we can to put a college education within reach for every American." Some believe his plan is driven by electoral politics. Even if it is, it's a good start.


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