The presidents of Northeastern, Tufts, and Boston universities have banded together with other college heads to lobby President Obama to preserve funding for the Federal Perkins Loan Program, which provides college loans with an interest rate of 5% to low-income students.

"Ending this program would be directly at odds with President Obama's ambitious goal for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020,'' said a letter to the U.S. Education Secretary that was signed by more than 30 university presidents.

Joseph E. Aoun, Northeastern University president, told the Boston Globe, "We need to find ways for families to go to college, and not curtail the opportunities for that.''

I'd like to propose an alternative solution: Instead of complaining that Congress is -- for the first time in history -- expressing mild reservations about continuing to provide the easy credit that allows colleges to raise their prices at breakneck speed, why don't the colleges find ways to reduce costs so that fewer students will find it necessary to borrow huge sums of money?

In September 2009, for example, Boston University unveiled its new luxury dorm. It bragged about the hotel-quality amenities to the Boston Globe -- the same newspaper that is now airing the university's complaints about a lack of funding:
". . . suites of singles and doubles, with elegantly furnished common rooms, large private baths, walk-in closets, and floor-length mirrors, resemble nothing like what older generations remember of their college housing. Other amenities include soundproof piano rooms that allow students to practice without disturbing those studying in the 24-hour reading room, which is outfitted with plush adjustable furniture befitting a first-class airport lounge. The laundry room -- with washers and dryers programmed to alert students via computer when they are available -- overlooks the athletic field and stadium. A trio of futuristic chandeliers hangs in the stairwell of the airy lobby. Newly potted lady-finger palms and creeping ficus fill giant stainless steel planters."
And then my favorite part:
"'Students want beauty, and they should have beauty,' Kenneth Elmore, BU's dean of students, said during a tour of the dorm."

So, after spending millions on a luxury dorm, BU is now complaining that it needs more money. Their argument is basically this: Students want beauty and they should have beauty; to get it, they will need to borrow tens of thousands of dollars from the government in order to have that beauty for four years, and then they should live in hovels when they graduate in order to pay back those loans -- if they're able to. A third of federal student loan borrowers end up defaulting anyway.

We need to re-frame the debate: Instead of talking about student loans for higher education, parents, students, and taxpayers need to ask this: Does it really make sense to have federally guaranteed loans used to build dorms with "elegantly furnished commons rooms"?

Zac Bissonnette'
s Debt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parents was called the "best and most troubling book ever about the college admissions process" by The Washington Post.

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