More progress needed to ease student debt

There’s a glimmer of good news on the discouraging subject of ever-rising student debt: It’s no longer ever-rising.

The nonprofit College Board reported last week that borrowing for U.S. colleges has declined for the third year in a row. Federal and private lending to students totaled $106 billion for the 2013-14 academic year. That’s down 8 percent from the previous year and a sizable drop from the peak of student borrowing, at $122 billion in 2010-11.

A Wall Street Journal story said part of the decline reflects a crackdown on for-profit colleges. Also contributing is an improving economy that has enabled families to earn more and borrow less. Finally, more students appear to be attending less-expensive colleges and are commuting rather than living on campus.

The decline in borrowing, however, hardly reduces the debt burden that is stunting career choices, home purchases and savings for many young Americans. Even students who attended public universities racked up big debts. The Journal cited a 2013 study of students who graduated from a group of 20 public institutions with average debt ranging from $33,950 to $48,850. And 54 percent of students graduating with professional degrees had more than $120,000 in loans.

The crackdown on loans to for-profit colleges has been a good start, but more needs to be done to help recent graduates climb out of the debt trap. A reduction in the interest rate on federal student loans was proposed by congressional Democrats but scuttled by Republicans. That rejection should be revisited by a new Congress supposedly committed to getting things done. One thing it could get done is to help young graduates get going.