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College debt daze

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It’s tough to make the math work on a social worker’s starting salary and $80,000 in student loans. But that’s what 23-year-old Jillian Potter, a recent graduate of Anderson University in Indiana, is now up against. Hers is one of the millions of stories that now add up to almost $1 trillion in student debt being carried by Americans, a weighty burden that was the focus of a 4,600-word front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times.

The debt crunch began to grow starting in the 1980s, when college costs began growing at a rate faster than family incomes. The world of college debt is now nearly a universal phenomenon of those seeking higher education: The Times story says 94 percent of all students earning a bachelor’s degree today have borrowed to help finance their education, more than double the 45 percent who did so in 1993.   For those with debt in 2011, the average amount owed was $23,300, and 10 percent owed more than $54,000.  

The student debt crunch was explored in this story earlier this year in CommonWealth, which reported that Massachusetts college grads in the class of 2010 carried the 14th highest student debt load in the country ($25,541), while New Hampshire students had the dubious distinction of ranking first ($31,048).  The Times story describes a double-whammy that is hitting public higher education students: rising college costs at a time when state support for higher ed has been declining. From 2001 to 2011, state and local support for public higher education per student has declined 24 percent nationally, a period during which tuition and fees at public colleges and universities shot up 72 percent.

The rising cost of college -- and the increasing debt burden of US college students and graduates -- was documented in a 2010 MassINC research report, Planning for College: A Consumer Approach to the Higher Education Marketplace. The report called for far greater transparency in the college financing process -- and for more attention to the quality measures that would help students and families make more informed choices in selecting a college.

Smarter, more informed decision-making is key to avoiding paths that lead to crippling levels of student debt. These days, however, almost everyone ends up doing some borrowing, and there’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t quality to the college debt discussion. As the Times story notes, “economists and many parents say that the only thing worse than graduating with lots of debt is not going to college at all, since study after study has shown that graduates earn more over a lifetime.”  

                                                                                                                                                            --MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

A bill under consideration in the Legislature would bring the salaries of county corrections officers to 90 percent of their state counterparts.

The Eagle-Tribune, in an editorial, says the bake sale flap was about far more than cookies.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A former firefighters union official leading a recall effort has accused Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan of sweeping under the rug the investigation into the appointment and subsequent retirement of a political ally as interim chief.

The License Commission in Lowell is poised to roll back last call in bars from 2 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., the Lowell Sun reports.

Boston city councilors are taking a keen interest in -- and squabbling over -- competing plans for redrawing boundaries for the nine district council seats.

The city of Weston, Florida, contracts out most of its services and has only nine city employees, Governing reports.

Most cities ended up with big surpluses in their snow and ice budgets this year, but not Lynn, which exceeded its budget by $138,165, the Item reports.

Foxborough Town Manager Kevin Paicos heads into his annual performance review with a whole pile of baggage hanging overhead.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The National Review shows the salaries of some union bosses put them in the 1 percent and says it’s hypocritical for the labor officials to attack Republicans for championing the types of incomes they themselves earn.

ELECTION 2012

Keller@Large brings in his body language consultant for the latest attempts at divining whether President Obama, Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, and Elizabeth Warren are comfortable in their own skins.

Forget the mother nursing her three-year-old on the cover of Time. The cover of the new issue of Newsweek declares Obama “the first gay president.”

Meanwhile, former State House News reporter Jim O’Sullivan, now at National Journal, ties Obama’s historic announcement of support for same-sex marriage to the groundbreaking legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts and shares the story of the State House hallway fall heard ‘round the world that may have helped set it all in motion. New York magazine argues Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t get the kind of credit Joe Biden does for forcing Obama’s hand, but he should. Gov. Deval Patrick takes to the Sunday talk circuit to discuss Obama’s shift. After endorsing same-sex marriage, the White House quietly made damage control calls to influential pastors.

GateHouse newspapers take a look at where the money is coming from and who’s raking it in in the state’s congressional races.

Herald columnist Kimberly Atkins highlights Mitt Romney’s difficulties escaping from the hole he dug for himself in Michigan.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Springfield lost more than a third of its manufacturing jobs in the past decade, according to a recent Brookings Institution report.

On Point’s, Tom Ashbrook hosts a discussion about income inequality with Edward Conrad, a former Bain Capital executive, and Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence.

The American Spectator says if Hollywood boycotts filming in North Carolina because of the voters’ ban on gay marriage last week, it would save taxpayers there millions in tax credits and suggests the boycott should extend to all states that have banned gay marriage and save taxpayers $1.5 billion.

Herman Cain talks up the gold standard and trades in vampire metaphors. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed column.

EDUCATION

Roxbury Community College’s inexplicable refusal to welcome a job-training program offered by a high-powered business organization renews long-standing questions about the college’s weak focus on student outcomes and career preparedness, CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas writes.  Is it time for a state takeover of the low-performing community college?  Globe columnist Adrian Walker on Saturday lauded Roxbury City Councilor Tito Jackson as the lone profile-in-courage among local black politicians who was willing to call for the ouster of RCC President Terrence Gomes.

More college presidents are coming to their posts from outside academia, as business prowess and fundraising skills are increasingly valued by higher ed institutions.

HEALTH CARE

More and more Lynn grandparents are raising their grandchildren, the Lynn Item reports. It may be their own fault, though, as the New York Times reports some parents eager to take on the role are paying to freeze their daughters’ fertilized eggs so they can have children when they’re ready later on.

Some doctors say Blue Cross Blue Shield’s new program to crack down on prescription drug abuse is going to create more red tape for physicians and patients who already follow the rules.

Former Gov. Michael Dukakis urges Beacon Hill to do for health insurance what Bill Weld did for workers compensation: tightly regulate rates.

Easton officials are meeting some resistance in trying to extend the town’s ban on smoking in public places to other outdoor areas such as ballfields and wooded hiking trails.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

NASA physicist and climatologist James Hansen says heat waves were caused by human-induced climate change, Time reports.

The Heritage Foundation reports that the US Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing to extend permits that allow the killing of bald eagles to accommodate wind energy projects.

A123 Systems, the Waltham-based maker of electric car batteries, reports a first quarter loss of $125 million and a revenue decline, the Wall Street Journal reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The state Appeals Court is calling on judges to make clear to jurors that the imperative to not discuss an ongoing case with anyone includes not tweeting about it or posting comments on Facebook.

The state has cut more than $1 million from funding for HIV testing and education in county jails.

MEDIA

The author of the new Ben Bradlee book defends himself against the critics, particularly his former boss, Bob Woodward, The Daily Beast reports.

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