Skip to main content

Who's to blame for student debt crisis

By Ben Cohen and Edward Erikson, Special to CNN
updated 6:38 AM EDT, Fri August 30, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ben Cohen, Edward Erikson: Are we serious about solving student debt crisis?
  • Cohen, Erikson: The root of the problem is influence of money in politics
  • Students suffer but Sallie Mae profits while owning 15% of student debt, they say
  • Cohen, Erikson: Corporations like Sallie Mae lobby Congress; we need to change that

Editor's note: Ben Cohen is co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and founder and Head Stamper at the Stamp Stampede, which aims to build a movement to amend the Constitution to get big money out of politics. Edward Erikson is a senior associate for MacWilliams Sanders Communication.

(CNN) -- As the new school year approaches, President Obama has been traveling around talking about the high cost of education. In a speech given on August 22 in Syracuse, New York, he laid out a plan to rein in the costs, describing affordable and accessible education as "Washington's highest priority."

But the education system isn't broken -- it's "fixed." If we're serious about tackling the issue of affordable education and student debt, we need to strike at the root of the problem -- the influence of money in politics.

Private corporations like Sallie Mae -- which own 15% or $162.5 billion dollars of total student debt -- rake in private-island-purchasing profits while students suffer.

Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen

It's impossible to be on a college campus -- especially a state university -- and not notice the impact of the student debt crisis. The debt weighs on our students. It is as if you could see it in their slumping postures and staggering gaits as they haul boulders and lug chains from class to class. Approximately 37 million students currently hold debt, averaging $27,500 per person and totaling over $1.1 trillion.

Edward Erikson
Edward Erikson

Saddled with debt, students are giving up on the idea of the American Dream. You know, like the idea that you and your buddy can open up a small ice cream shop in an old gas station and grow it into a multimillion dollar business that cares for the community and delights the world.

The truth is, if Jerry and I had had $27,000 of debt in 1978, we would never have taken the risk of opening our first scoop shop. More likely than not, we would have been underemployed and buried in back payments.

Obama gets it. In Syracuse, he said: "The idea used to be that here in America anybody could make it. ... And, unfortunately, what's happened is it's gotten tougher for a lot of folks. So we've got to reverse these trends."

Analysis of president's college plan
GOP: We need a fix on student loans

But while Obama talks about creating policies that will benefit the middle class, corporations like Sallie Mae are dedicated to preserving the status quo by showering Capitol Hill with cash.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sallie Mae has donated over $1.26 million to federal candidates and parties in the last four election cycles and bankrolled $1.93 million dollars lobbying Congress in the first half 2013.

During that time, Congress crafted a student loan bill that tied interest rates to financial markets, which President Obama signed it into law in August. While in the short term, the bill prevented interest rates from doubling, students are more vulnerable in face of an adjustable interest rate that could top 8.5%.

Corporations like Sallie Mae borrow at dirt cheap interest rates (subsidized between .23% and .34%) from the Federal Home Loan banks. In contrast, undergraduate students borrow at an adjustable 3.85% and graduate students borrow at an adjustable 5.4%.

That's a sweetheart deal for Sallie Mae which raked in $2.5 billion in interest payments from student loans last year, but a terrible deal for students.

In a letter to Sallie Mae's CEO, Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote: "While Sallie Mae is finding unique ways to profit from government programs, its borrowers are paying interest rates that are far in excess of the low cost of funds supported by the U.S. taxpayers."

It's time to dam the deluge of cash and corporate influence in Washington once and for all. Whether you're a college student, a debt holder, a parent or simply someone concerned about the future of our country, you can help.

There is a stampede rumbling across the country to amend the Constitution to declare: 1) Money is not free speech; and 2) Corporation are not people.

At StampStampede.org, we're helping to build that movement by legally stamping messages like "Not to be Used for Bribing Politicians" on our nation's currency to spread the word and get money out of politics. Every bill is seen by 875 people, so the more stamped bills that enter circulation, the more movement will grow. And it's growing.

Thanks to the leadership by groups like People for the American Way, Move to Amend, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Public Citizen, 16 states have passed referendums calling on Congress to take action and over 150 members of Congress support the amendment strategy.

As the new school semester begins, pick up a stamp and help take back our campus and take back Congress. This is our future and our fight to win.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ben Cohen and Edward Erikson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT