Editorial: Service incentives are good way to reduce student debt

For quite some time, the media have been reporting on college students who graduate with debt looming over their shoulders.

Most college students have more to worry about than just finishing school. That’s because six months after graduation, lenders come knocking on their doors, demanding that they be repaid, regardless of the recent graduate’s job situation.

With unemployment continuing to rise — in September, Florida stood at 6.6 percent, up from 4.2 percent in September 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Labor — many may be reluctant to take out student loans. Couple this with the nation’s credit crunch, and students may not be able to get the loans they need even if they’re willing to face a highly competitive job market.

Universities are well aware of the problem. That’s why offices of financial aid have financial advisers for students. These advisers stress that students should only borrow what is needed and keep in mind that the debt will have to be repaid.

USA Today reports that the average college student owes $22,000 after graduating with an undergraduate degree. And yet, not much has been done to reach a solution to help students.

Well, until now.

Princeton, Harvard and Tufts University are looking into ways to lessen the blow for students by introducing programs that will waive some of the financial burden acquired during an academic career.

Tufts, for example, has a loan-forgiveness program that will absolve all student-loan debt for anyone who graduated after October 2007 and works for the government or a nonprofit organization for at least 10 years, according to USA Today.

Harvard Law School is looking into waiving one year of tuition for third-year students who commit to five years of work for the government or nonprofits, while Princeton has eight students who are pursuing a free master’s degree in exchange for a commitment to two years of government work.

Though it is understandable that budget cuts and an impending recession are affecting access to education and it’s impossible to give everyone a free education, these actions are steps in the right direction.

Despite budget cuts, USF can attempt a similar approach by presenting endowment donors with a program that will help individual students. Donors would have more direct impact, while students would return the favor to the community through their service.

It’s commendable for institutions that are held in such high regard to look into ways that not only encourage students to seek jobs in governmental fields, but also facilitate education.