Commentary: Service to America to help students avoid going into debt


With students returning to college campuses, it is time to consider other ways for them to pay for tuition, books and living expenses. Too often, they resort to borrowing.

Now, student loan forgiveness is spotlighted as the solution when it is only part of the answer. There are other ways.

Student indebtedness is mounting. It is exacerbated by rising “total costs to attend” college (COA). The growth rate exceeds inflation and interest rates on student loans are often higher than on homes. It needs fixing.

In the 1963-1964 academic year, the average annual published cost of “in-state tuition and fees” was $243 at public four-year institutions, and $1,011 at private institutions, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

NCES reports if the cost of college remained in line with inflation, annual tuition and fees would have been $2,076 at four-year public universities and $8,624 at private colleges for the 2020-2021 academic year.

However, in that academic year, the average price tag for in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public institution was $9,400 and COA was $33,000. Adding room, board, books and other expenses to tuition and fees and COA at some Washington private universities exceeded $70,000.

Massive student loan debt is a gigantic national problem. As of the first quarter of 2023, it exceeded $1.77 trillion.

President Biden’s $400 billion approach to buy down some student loans is problematic. It would cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers; however, it is unfair to those who paid off their loans or are repaying private notes.

About 92 percent of student loans debt is borrowed money from the feds with interest rates ranging from 5% to 7.5 %. Average private student loan interest rates range from 4.99 % to almost 15 %.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared the President did not have the authority to forgive student loan debt saying that it was an unlawful act of presidential power lacking explicit Congressional approval.

There are ways which do not require new Congressional authorization nor Supreme Court approval. One emanated after World War II and has served our nation well.

The GI bill for veterans who have completed their enlistments works. So does assistance to college students in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and on National Guard or Reserve status. Today, with armed forces missing their recruitment targets, it is also a way to serve our nation, beef up our depleted military ranks, and improve defense readiness.

Sign up to serve America in uniform whether it be the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Space Force or Public Health Service and GI bill benefits qualifying begins. Those serving can reap the benefits from tuition assistance while performing their duties in uniform including those on Reserve or National Guard status.

Students planning to become officers can earn over $12,000 a year from monthly stipends, summer training, and reimbursement for subsistence and books. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) reports between ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) produced more than 94,000 officers in the decade beginning in 2011.

There are also opportunities to attend the world’s best military academies courtesy of Uncle Sam at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs or New London with a job guaranteed after commissioning. Since their respective founding’s, the academies have commissioned over 150,000 officers.

The rising student loan trend is unsustainable for our nation or people completing their schooling. In the 2020-21 academic year, 54 percent of bachelor’s degree students graduated with student loans of $30,000, according to the College Board.

Rather than finding ways to circumvent the court, the President and Congress should be working together to pass legislation that is fair and will withstand high court scrutiny. Until that happens, they should focus on what is working.


Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at