Brittany Wagner

Nearly one in five students who attend community college in Missouri will default on their student loans within three years, according to data from the Department of Education.

Nationally, student debt totals $1.3 trillion—and more than one-fifth of borrowers are unable to make payments. According to Million Student March leader Keely Mullen, the solution is progressive taxation.

Free college! A $15 dollar minimum wage for campus workers! No more student debt! Thanks, one percent. . . . wait—where did you go?

There are realistic solutions to the rising cost of obtaining a college degree, but they don’t include simply pouring more tax dollars into a broken system.

One solution would be to lower the cost of college altogether. Both massive open online courses (MOOCs) and competency based education (CBE) offer opportunities for states trying to do just that.

Many courses that students are required to take are offered online in the form of MOOCs. MOOCs are courses offered over the internet to a large group of people without charge. Websites like Coursera offer classes in history, math, science, and engineering at low cost (and sometimes free). Allowing students to use free or low-cost services, especially when some of these classes would be big, impersonal lectures anyway, would reduce the number of courses for which students must take out loans.

Competency based education has similar potential to reduce the cost of college. Rather than basing course credit on the amount of time a student sits in class, CBE grants credit for courses when students demonstrate that they have mastered the coursework. This helps students progress more quickly through content they already know or can learn easily, and ultimately reduces the amount of time students need to complete their degrees.

Public institutions like the University of Missouri should embrace these alternatives. The best way to decrease student debt is to reduce the cost of the education itself, so students don't need to borrow so much in the first place. 

About the Author

Brittany Wagner
Education Policy Research Assistant

Brittany Wagner was an education policy research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.