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Democratic presidential candidates and Congressional leaders have proposed significant investment in undergraduate education. These include larger scholarships for students from low-income families and free tuition in public colleges.

Growing student borrowing ignored

Even though the measures could minimize the need for student loans for associates and bachelor’s degree, they have nevertheless ignored the huge debt students accumulate during graduate programs. However, according to the Centre for American Progress, failure to address this growing debt problem could undermine the steps taken to ensure higher education is affordable. The center opines that even if people can get an undergraduate degree at no cost, the savings will be inconsequential once they begin pursuing an advanced degree.

The lack of grant aid, the proliferation of expensive graduate programs, and unlimited lending from the government has contributed to the increase in graduate school borrowing. The trend is mostly overlooked, considering most graduates do not default, but they are nonetheless burdened with high-balance debt. Over time the student loan debt has slowed, but individual balances are still high because most are not paying down the loans.

Over the past year, total indebtedness slowed, but there are still several factors constraining borrowers from paying down their loans. Outstanding loans have almost doubled in the past decade and currently stand at around $1.6 trillion.

Measures to reduce student borrowing

According to the paper released by the Centre for American Progress, there several policies that could help in lowering graduate debt. These include pricing caps, having borrowing limits, as also penalizing schools for burdening students with debt they can’t pay. Equally, some reforms include weeding out degrees with poor returns, although this might limit access for marginalized groups as well as lower the quality of programs.

The Centre for American Progress VP for postsecondary education Ben Miller feels that most of the proposals are proactive and could be unrealistic. Miller, however, suggests that there is a need for discussion to address the growing problem of borrowing.

Around 40% of federal student loan provides every year go to graduate programs which have seen borrowing increase by $2.3 billion since the 2010/2011 academic year.