Rising student debt levels certainly seem unsustainable. Over the past 10 years, student loan debt has more than tripled from $360 billion in 2005 to more than $1.2 trillion today, making it second only to outstanding mortgage debt.
Those worrisome trends have everyone from student activists to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and presidential candidates pushing proposals to stem the rising tide of student debt—some aimed at making higher education more affordable and others at helping borrowers deal with, or even dismiss, high loan balances.
While it's too soon to know which approach may ultimately be successful, many have the potential to change the financial fortunes of millions of future students and their families.
In February, President Barack Obama proposed a scaled-back version of what would be a radical idea for Americans: free tuition for community college students.Obama's plan would offer free tuition to students who attend classes at least half time and maintain a grade point average of 2.5 or better. In announcing a resolution that backed the concept, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called debt-free college "the next big idea." The measure has received support from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D.-Mass, a lawmaker popular with the party's liberal wing.
"Our economy cannot flourish if we don't have enough college-educated workers, but our economy will stagnate if students take on bigger and bigger debt loads to pay for college. Degrees push us forward, but debt holds us back," Warren said June 10 when outlining her proposals to address the affordability of college.
"While not every college needs to graduate every student debt free, every kid needs a debt-free option—a strong public university where it's possible to get a great education without taking on loads of debt," she added.