It's not often that Democrats like President Barack Obama and conservatives like Steve Forbes agree on the key issues of the day but that's exactly what's happening with the high cost of college and explosion of student debt. They both agree that rising college costs -- now averaging almost $31,100 a year at private colleges and $9,000 for state residents at public colleges -- and the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt have become big burdens for students, their families and the economy overall.
Where they disagree is on the solution to the rising cost of college and the associated rise in debt.
This week, recalling his own history of student loans, President Obama issued an executive order that expands the availability of lower monthly debt repayments. He also challenged Congress to pass legislation that would allow graduates to refinance old college debt at lower rates.
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Forbes, who ran twice for the Republican nomination for president, is not a fan of more government intervention. He even blames government financial aid in part for rising college costs, but he laments the plight of graduates deep in debt.
"They end up becoming indentured servants in effect because they come out of school with a semi-mortgage and no house to show for it," says Forbes.
Forbes favors more online education and shorter stints in college in order to reduce costs: a three-year undergraduate degree and a four-year graduate degree. He says parents are asking, 'What do we get for $200,000 and a lot of debt, especially in a stagnant economy like this?'
Students actually do get a lot from a college education, even if they take on debt. In 2013 those with four-year college degrees earned nearly twice as much on average as those without a degree - an even bigger difference than five years ago, according to analysis by the Economic Policy Institute based on Labor Department data.
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But that doesn't mean college costs shouldn't be reined in, and there are programs designed to do just that. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, students can get a free education at Tulsa Community College so long as they live in the county, graduate high school with a minimum "C" average and commit to a minimum of two years of public service, according to a recent report on NPR's Morning Edition. Next year, Tennessee will become the first state to offer a similar program and Oregon is considering one as well.
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