Written by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)

“Sallie, I know I ain’t been answerin’ your calls/Shit, let me explain: It’s because times been hard...”-J.Cole

With his final verse on “Dollar and a Dream ll,” J.Cole endeared himself to a generation of listeners who graduated from college uncertain and afraid. What do college students fear the most these days? It isn’t finals, maintaining a great GPA, or even graduation. No, it’s the massive debt they’re accumulating while receiving an education, a sum they might spend most of their adult lives paying off.

With college becoming four times as expensive as it was 30 years ago, student loan debt has surpassed a stunning $1 trillion, which is more than the nation’s credit card debt. Worse, the current student loan interest rate of 3.4 percent is on the verge of doubling come July 1. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on Wednesday that party leaders had come to an agreement to keep loans steady for 7.4 million students, but congress still has to pass the $6 million deal by the end of June to prevent the crippling increase. Even if that happens, it still won’t slow the cost of tuition, which is making it increasingly difficult for students to pay for school—on both the front and back ends.

In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, New America Foundation Education Policy Program director Kevin Carey explained that the debt crisis was the direct result of disturbing trends among institutions of higher education. One of these is reckless spending by colleges and universities, which ultimately drives up tuition costs. Why are so many schools blowing money fast? According to Carey, it’s all about prestige, as schools attempt to stunt on one another just to elevate their status. The more they spend erecting new buildings on campus, the more students must spend.

Here’s a frightening figure: The average college senior in the United States carries a student loan debt of $25,000 across that stage as they graduate, and that’s on bachelor's degrees alone. The competition for jobs has pushed students to seek graduate degrees, which of course adds to that debt. However, even students with advanced degrees are struggling to find employment, meaning they’re continuing to borrow without having steady income to offset the debt. Or, as Cole mentioned on “Blow Up,” they’ll spend a significant part of their careers working jobs they loathe just to pay off lenders. Since the late ’90s, subsidized student loans have been ineligible for settlement through bankruptcy, and it appears that unsubsidized loans are on the verge of being subject to the same regulation. As students feel the pressure to extend their education just to make it, many feel the crunch of its cost regardless.

Congress’s proposed deal to address the debt would be financed through changes in how employer pensions are determined. The deal would create a 25-year range of stabilization that would reduce changes in calculating employer pension contributions. Employers would also be forced to pay an increased rate to insure pensions through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which oversees millions of pensions. Lastly, the deal would alter the amount of time students can borrow at the 3.4 percent interest rate, capping borrowing at 150 percent of the length of the degree. All of this is expected to free up money, but it’s a short-term solution. While Democrats and Republicans fight for the spotlight, students continue to lose. This is a conveniently hot topic in an election year, but after November, students will still have to face those loans.

[via Fresh Air, GOOD News and Campus Progress]