Biden: College Debt is 'Crushing' Parents | News

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Biden: College Debt is 'Crushing' Parents
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NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. -- The vice president focused on parents as much as students today as he spoke about college affordability.

Joe Biden, joined by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, spoke to the students at Fletcher High School this morning about the importance of college, despite its cost.  He also said he and President Obama are working to curb the costs, to give students "a fighting chance to get to college."

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"I know how hard it is," the vice president told the crowd, saying he had to borrow money, put a second mortgage on his home and ultimately sell his home to help his children pay for college.

Debt, Biden said, "(Is) crushing hundreds of thousands of parents, and making them wonder...'is a college education worth it?'"

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"It is worth it," he replied.  "It is absolutely essential." 

Biden said the unemployment rate for college graduates is half that of those without a degree.

He said his father, who didn't have a college education but insisted that Biden get one, told him why.  "'They can take a lot away, but they can never take away your education'," Biden attributed to his father.

Not only has the cost of higher education risen, he said, but also the ways previous generations had to pay for it have disappeared.

Biden said $16 trillion in wealth "evaporated" when the stock markets fell and the housing bubble burst.  That left families without enough equity to borrow money to pay for college.

The Obama administration can cut costs and cut debt without compromising the quality of a college education, Biden said, slipping into a bit of political rhetoric as he said "those on the other side" believe the administration is giving away money."  Biden also chastised republicans for doing the same thing, but only to wealthy people.

As for ways to help, Biden said the Obama administration has created a tax credit for families worth $10,000 over four years and has put $40 billion into Pell grants, which have helped send three million people to college -- 500,000 in Florida -- during the Obama administration.

He also spoke about "the best kept secret in America today:" community colleges.  Biden said his wife, Jill, still teaches a full load at a community college even though she is the country's second lady, and that she has a saying he believes:  "Any nation that out-educates us will out-compete us."

Biden said the two-year colleges cost about 1/5 of a four-year school and all credits are transferrable.

"Debt takes away your options," he concluded, saying that people who would prefer to spend their time volunteering or taking a job in which they believe will instead have to take the job that offers the most money, regardless of what it is.

He proposed establishing a limit of 10 percent of disposable income to be dedicated to paying off college debt.

Duncan said investing in education is critical.

"One generation ago, we led the world in college graduates; (today) we're 16th," Duncan said, noting that while graduation rates here have stayed the same, 15 other countries have improved theirs enough to pass the United states.

Duncan put some of the onus on the colleges.  "We can't do it by ourselves," he said of easing the financial burden of a college degree.  "Colleges themselves have to be thoughtful; they have to be part of the solution."

"Education has to be the heart of strengthening our nation," he said of the administration's goal of investing in schools.  "The goal is not to go to college; the goal is to graduate."

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