CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Graduates of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine incur an average of $240,283 student loan debt, researchers of the Higher Education Policy Commission found. Next-worst was Marshall University medical school, where graduates average $162,010 debt -- followed by WVU medical degree-earners with $156,425.
WVU medical vice dean Norman Ferrari said debt loads of his students have risen so badly they may discourage some West Virginians from becoming doctors.
The crushing burden of college student loans is nearing $1 trillion in America, which raises alarms. Higher education is the key to successful middle-class life -- but it's saddling students and parents with ever-worse costs. No wonder so many political and academic leaders are seeking ways to curtail college expense.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York says total U.S. student loan debt has climbed relentlessly to $966 billion. "I think of it as a ticking time bomb," Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisc., said.
Many ex-students default on their loans, and the U.S. Department of Education can garnish their wages.
Two-thirds of four-year bachelor's degree graduates have loans averaging about $30,000 -- but a few sink into much-deeper quicksand. A Wall Street Journal analysis told of a Los Angeles law graduate who owes $300,000 and is applying for government lawyer jobs that pay $55,000. To avoid ruin, she's seeking federal forgiveness relief.
Student loan forgiveness is a controversial federal effort. An income-based repayment system began in 2007 under President George W. Bush. It said former students couldn't be forced to pay more than 15 percent of their income, and remaining debt would be erased after 25 years.
As a side-facet of President Obama's 2010 health reform, the repayment limit was cut to 10 percent of income, and final erasure was set at 20 years for private-sector workers and 10 years for public-service workers.
Debt forgiveness is considered income, so recipients must pay income tax on the writeoff sums. But Obama's new budget proposes that these sums be made tax-exempt.
However, some conservatives in Congress fear that all these debt-erasing steps will induce students to incur big loans, expecting to wriggle out of them later.
What a tangle. One possible cure lies in more effort to reduce college cost. And maybe federal officials could impose borrowing limits to prevent students from signing up for more debt than they can reasonably hope to repay.