Education Secretary discusses college cost and debt concerns

by Dina Elrashidy

In a speech Tuesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged higher education officials to think more creatively and urgently on solutions to rising college costs and student debt according to the New York Times.

The price for full-time undergraduates in college rose by 20 percent at public four-year intuitions between 1995 to 2007. The average college senior with loans now graduates with an average of more than $25,000 in debt.

For 2009-10, the average loan debt for a University student graduating with a bachelor’s degree was $29,949 for students whose parents took out loans, according to University data. Over the same period for students whose parents didn’t take out a loan, the average debt was approximately $26,523.

The Education Department said Duncan’s speech is the beginning of a “national conversation about the rising cost of college.”

The Occupy movement has put college costs to the forefront of national discussion. Pressure continues to mount on the issue. On Monday, City University of New York students protested with signs saying “Abolish the board of trustees” and “CUNY must be free” after a series of $300 annual tuition increases through 2015 was approved.

Duncan noted the Obama administration’s efforts at increasing student aid in his speech.

“A decade ago, the federal government provided a third of undergraduate grant aid,” he said. “Today, we provide half of all undergraduate grant aid. In the last three years alone, the number of Pell Grant recipients enrolled in college has jumped by almost half, from 6.2 million to roughly 9 million. In the same time frame, the value of total grant aid and federal loans per student increased by about 30 percent in inflation-adjust dollars.”

Duncan pointed to universities and state programs cutting tuition as examples of success. In Pittsburgh, Duquesne University is offering half-priced tuition and fees for freshmen who enroll in the education school. The University of Oregon’s PathwayOregon is guaranteeing free tuition to qualified students from Oregon with low-income families.

While currently colleges succeeding at lowering costs and retaining quality are few and far between, Duncan said “I want them to be the norm.”