An education

This month, college students start the return to campus for another year of education—and another year spent accumulating astronomical debt.

When I graduated in the mid-1990s, my school-loan debt ticked just past the $10,000 mark and covered much of my tuition and fees.

Today, an undergraduate education would set me back at least $60,000, and I'd likely owe $26,600—that's the average debt amount for a new graduate, according to a 2012 report released by the Institute for College Access and Success' Project on Student Debt.

On August 23, President Barack Obama announced a new plan to address the ever-rising cost of higher education. The proposal, should it win Congressional approval, would rank colleges before the start of the 2015 academic year based on standards for tuition, graduation rates and graduate earnings. By 2018, those rankings would be directly linked to financial aid. Students at higher-rated schools could possibly qualify for larger federal grants and more affordable loans.

It's time we demand that colleges be held accountable, but the plan is worth a C grade at best. Jobs for new grads are still hard to come by, and the default rate for federal student-loan borrowers within two years of making their first payment climbed from 8.8 percent in 2009 to 9.1 percent in 2010, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

And that number will continue to rise unless we provide viable solutions, such as incentives for universities to cap tuition and fees, more class options for students aiming to graduate within four years, and expanded loan forgiveness programs.

It used to be a college education provided most graduates with knowledge, skills and solid financial opportunities—not just a mountain of debt. It's time to rebuild that standard.