Editorial: Student debt and graduation

Democrats have been falling all over themselves during the current campaign promising student debt relief and to make college more accessible and affordable — even free!

But perhaps before progressives harness taxpayers to another budget-busting entitlement it would be wise to consider a few modest alternatives.

“The most effective way to lower student debt is to lessen the time toward completion” of a degree, Ron Berman, president of Cleveland State University, told the Wall Street Journal this week.

In the seminal campus comedy “Animal House,” the scheming Dean Vernon Wormer revokes the charter of the Delta House fraternity and expels its members, including house degenerate Bluto Blutarsky (John Belushi), who exclaims, “Seven years of college down the drain.”

The line drew huge guffaws in 1978. Who goes to college for seven years? Apparently, a lot of kids today.

According to the Journal, fewer than four in 10 students who entered school in 2008 as full-time freshman earned their diplomas within four years. The six-year rate was 60 percent. The numbers are even lower at UNLV, where in 2013 the six-year graduation rate was just 43 percent.

The bottom line: The longer students stay on campus, the higher the costs.

“A report by personal finance website NerdWallet,” the Journal notes, “found two extra years of school can cost $300,000 over a person’s life, including money spent on tuition and loans, lost income and missed retirement savings.”

USA Today reported last year that a University of Texas study found students “who graduate on time will spend 40 percent less than those who graduate in six years.”

Several colleges, the Journal reports, have created programs — such as mandating that students regularly meet with advisors — to push kids to finish school within four years. Expanding course offerings to ensure that students don’t get shut out of classes they need to graduate would also help.

In addition, Congress could tailor federal financial aid policies to reward those who earn their degrees on time.

Yes, there may be good reasons for some students to miss the four-year mark. Those who need remediation as freshman can sometimes fall behind, while transfer students often lose credits when they switch schools and those who change majors may pile up unnecessary coursework.

But those looking to ease the student debt burden might start by encouraging incoming college students to avoid the Bluto Blutarsky blueprint.

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