America’s total student loan debt tops $1.3 trillion. It’s hard to imagine a figure so large, but for many young adults, student loan repayment is not only a national problem, but also a very personal one. The burden of student debt keeps too many young workers on a financial treadmill – unable to climb out of the hole they are in, much less get ahead or put aside savings.

How did this come to be? It wasn’t always so costly to get higher education. High tuition costs, spurred on by the nationalization of the student loan industry and government education subsidies, are the main culprit. A poor job market for recent grads has exacerbated the situation.

Some groups and policymakers have proposed fixing the problem of college debt with widespread, government-financed forgiveness programs. Another suggestion is to make public college available tuition-free.

These proposals, while well-intended, would come with significant costs and consequences: Debt forgiveness programs punish taxpayers and responsible borrowers and encourage ever-increasing tuition costs and wasteful spending. Tuition-free college might increase college enrollment, but would likely led to a lower on-time graduation rate. Universities would also have even less incentive to use resources efficiently and provide students with value once government shifts all costs to taxpayers.

There are better ways for policymakers to bring down college tuition and help students and young adults burdened with student debt.

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