Just when you thought the paperwork that has followed you throughout your college career was over. More paperwork...

Seems this nation, and our beloved government, in particular, is enamored with paper -- even if it is electronic. Forms. Questionnaires. Surveys. Documents of every kind and of infinite duration. Endless, too often incomprehensible paperwork, rendering the Paperwork Reduction Act just another Congressional blunder, and the act of completing required forms more or less meaningless.

Take the so-called online "student loan counseling" that incoming college students must endure in order to secure federal student loans such as Stafford.

Forget, momentarily, that most 17 year olds don't have the patience to sit through a barrage of gobblygoop on the whys, wherefores and hithertos of government lending. Even assuming they did, your average college-bound student has absolutely no idea what is being said during these counseling sessions. [Think of it as an exercise akin to understanding all of the loan disclosures one signs upon taking a mortgage, or using pencil and paper to figure out the Alternate Minimum Tax when completing your 1040. For the former, it's "just sign here, there and everywhere." The latter, "Thank goodness for TurboTax!"]

Even parents, save for the astute lawyers, accountants, and lending professionals, don't have a clue when it comes to these student loan counseling sessions, which is a shame, as oft times it is the parent who stands in for the student in completing -- or at least assisting in the completion of -- the counseling forms. And if you understand the inticacies of student loan consolidation, raise your right hand. [We said right hand!]

Instead of an ad nauseum recitation of terms and conditions, enough to revive Shakespeare from the dead only to have him reiterate that "neither a lender nor a borrower be," how about a one-liner, signed off by the student, to wit, "I will be responsible for the repayment of this loan, come hell or high water. Period!"

To add salt to the wound, students, having accumulated debt by the thousands of dollars, are required by federal regulation to complete an online "Exit" counseling session when they are about to complete their course of study.

Why? Do they need to be reminded that they have to repay these loans, at interest rates far above the average mortgage rate (and light years beyond interest rates paid by the feds on bonds and notes), no matter what? That default -- and discharge in bankruptcy -- is not an option? That the government will garnish their miniscule wages, assuming they can find jobs, if they do not pay up?

Does our government truly believe that such counseling is helpful to students? That but for the brightest of our grads, anyone will actually absorb and digest the intricacies of the likes of forbearance and deferment? That anyone knows the difference between a Master Promissory Note and a Post-It Note? Or is this just another way to tell us we are essentially at the mercy of a system that mocks the public and thumbs its nose up to all reason?

Exit Interview? Again, we ask, why not simply say to the debt-burdened students of America, "Hey. We realize you have no job, no money, and are living in the basement of your parents' mortgaged-to-the-hilt home, but you owe us big time, so don't even think of not paying up! I'm Uncle Sam, and I approve this message."

Is it any wonder that the abbreviation for the U.S. Department of Education is "ED"?

If the government really wants to reform the way student lending is done in this country -- and to promote the education of young Americans in a way that truly makes college affordable, stop with the counseling, the online interviews, the hobgoblin of gibberish and loanspeak that darkens our Internet portals (only the blue screen of death would be more welcome), and usher in a new era of financing higher education.

Here are but a few ideas worthy of consideration:

- All student loans will be subsidized. Interest, if any, will begin to run only after the student has graduated. The unsubsidized loan, where interest begins to accrue the very day money is disbursed, is eliminated.

- The interest rate (if any) on all student loans will be the lesser of what the United States government pays on its bonds and notes at the time the loan money is disbursed (currently, at or near zero) or what banks pay to borrow money from the government (currently, at or near zero).

- If a student, in good faith, cannot repay the loan, in whole or in part, which good faith can be amply demonstrated, then the government shall offer a bailout to the student, as they do for corporations that, in bad faith, plunder and waste assets, driving America into recession. [Indeed, as corporations reward their failed execs with multimillion dollar bailouts, separation agreements and golden parachutes, Uncle Sam could at least reward students who earn a degree in four years and are ready, able and willing to join the workforce with a job that pays a living wage!]

- Make ALL college expenses -- not just tuition -- tax deductible (or give a corresponding credit), without limitation.

- Public institutions of higher learning (i.e., state universities) shall be fully funded by the government, affording students the opportunity to have a free college education.

At what point will we say, "STOP THE MADNESS!"? More than this, at what point will we actually be willing to do something about it?
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