The Other Student Loan Slow Jam: Is It Time for a National Service Corps?

If you haven't taken the time to watch President Obama slow jam the news on Late Night from last week, take the time. It was a political masterstroke that so infuriated conservatives (because they're incapable of approaching that level of coolness), that they actually tried to make being cool, uncool. It, of course, was not that cool.

The slow jam was all about student loans, and though it may have been a big deal for Jimmy Fallon's ratings, it didn't really do much to address the breadth of the crisis. A lifetime ago, I proposed something that might actually go some way toward fixing the school financing bubble we all face, though many will view it as even uncooler than the GOP's attack on coolness. More on that later, but first, let's take a closer look at the substance of the slow jam.

The Late Night appearance placed President Obama at the forefront of the student debt crisis. It was arranged so Obama could voice his support for legislation that would keep interest rates for federally subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4 percent. They are set to increase to 6.8 percent on July 1 unless Congress acts. Most politicians think rates should stay low, but they don't all agree on how to pay for it. Republicans want to use a fund marked for public health. Democrats want to pay for it by eliminating certain subsidies for oil companies and increasing taxes on the wealthy. Either way, it's a head fake.

Locking the interest rates at 3.4 percent will save the average student a few thousand dollars over the life of the loan, but it will do nothing to solve this nation's higher education problem where often only the very rich or those willing to take on permanent debt can go to college. So the President can slow jam this all he wants, but even the ghost of Barry White couldn't make this interest rate deal anything more than lipstick on a pig.

So permit me to slow jam just how badly higher education in America is broken.

Awww yeah. Mmmm.

College in America is insanely expensive. According to data from The College Board, since 1981, tuition at private colleges has nearly tripled and it's nearly quadrupled at public colleges (in constant, 2011 dollars). In the early '80s tuition and fees at a private college ran just $10,144. Now it's $28,500. A public college cost $2,200 and in 2011/12, the average was $8,200. And remember, these are all 2011/12 dollars and none of these figures includes room and board. That means that an education at an 'elite' private institution can run a middle class family that doesn't qualify for aid, close to a quarter of a million dollars. And if the next 30 years is anything like the previous, some of the kids in Sarah Lawrence's class of 2042 could be saddled with somewhere in the neighborhood of $720,000 in student loan debt.

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