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Commentary: Maryland Father Says University Leaders Need To Do More To Reduce Education Costs

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WAMU 88.5 listener Ted Barry is a father of three from Rockville, Md.
WAMU 88.5 listener Ted Barry is a father of three from Rockville, Md.

The interest rates for federal Stafford Loans for students with financial need are set to double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, if Congress does not intervene. Earlier this week we aired a commentary from Georgetown University president John DeGioia, who called on lawmakers to prevent the rate hike from going into effect.

"Gridlock is not an excuse for our students to go even deeper into debt," he said. "We must summon the political will to ensure that a new burden will not dash the hopes of our young and erect new barriers to higher education."

That caught the attention of Ted Berry, a WAMU 88.5 listener in Rockville, Md., who will be paying for tuition as his three children reach college age. Berry wrote a commentary in response, calling on university leaders — including DeGioia — to do more to reduce the cost of higher education.

Let us consider a couple of statistics: The total cost to attend Georgetown University's undergraduate programs is approximately $60,000 per year. Georgetown University has accumulated approximately $1 billion in long-term financial assets. These statistics suggest that the real impediment to pursuing the American Dream through education is that colleges and universities are big, expensive businesses.

During the Great Recession , Congress provided relief to students who were trying to get launched in the midst of a very difficult period. Interest rates on government-backed student loans were reduced to provide short-term assistance and to help students manage the consequences of the investments they made in their futures via college education.

Meanwhile, colleges and universities continued to raise tuition at rates that are much higher than the overall rate of inflation (a practice which has gone on for decades). Georgetown University, like most colleges, continued to pile costs onto the backs of the students. Colleges and universities often argue that rising salaries and improvements to facilities are necessary to retain high-quality faculty and remain competitive. These collective costs are passed on to students in the form of higher tuition and fees.

For many students, these costs have either been covered or offset by a variety of federal programs, such as subsidized loans and grants. I suggest that federal loan programs and financial aid packages have masked the real problem of high tuitions and fees, and it has only been the recent cut-backs in federal spending that have exposed just how far out of whack the system has become. The interest on the loans certainly adds pain to the situation, but the real problem is the total cost of attendance.

Dr. DeGioia said it is time for us to take a step forward and begin rebuilding the contract that our older generation has to our young.

It's time for universities to do exactly that, by taking leadership in this area and reducing the direct costs our students pay.

Ted Berry is a WAMU 88.5 listener and father of three children in Rockville, Md.

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