The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali have left many of us fearful about the future, but the sad truth is that religious jihadists may not be the only scary problem facing our generation.

The skyrocketing costs of a college education and the staggering debt that college graduates face as they begin their careers and families are threatening their dreams for the future.

Collegedata.com reports the average cost of a four-year, in-state public college education has reached $24,061, and prestigious schools like Duke, Harvard and Yale can cost more than $50,000 per year. The average student graduates with almost $30,000 in loan debt.

There are stories on the Internet of Baby Boomers who have reached retirement age, but can’t retire because they are still paying off education loans. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has issued a report on household debt that states the number of Americans over the age of 50 with outstanding debt has tripled to 2 million since 2005. Imagine what it will be like when we reach our 60s.

Not going to college does not seem to be an option anymore. There is a staggering wage gap between people who have a college degree and those who do not. The website nces.ed.gov reports that college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn up to $6,000 dollars more a month than people who only complete their GED.

According to valuecolleges.com, today’s students are paying more than 500 percent more than what their parents paid to attend college in 1985. Research done by onewisconsin.org suggests that it takes 21 years on average to pay off the debt incurred obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

The Obama administration recently proposed a plan to make two years of community college free for students. Such a change would make obtaining a bachelor’s degree much more affordable because students could live at home and complete their first two years toward a bachelor’s degree loan-free. Obama’s plan would not help those who wish to attend a four-year public or private university right after high school. The college admissions process would drastically change as the majority of students stayed at home until their junior and senior years. It would also not impact the expense of earning a master’s or doctoral degree.

The Obama administration also proposed a change to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that would allow seniors to fill out their federal aid applications months earlier than in the past. Beginning with the Class of 2017, seniors will be able to use their tax information from the previous year instead of rushing to complete their current year tax forms to meet the FAFSA deadlines in late January and early February.With this proposed plan, seniors of 2017 will be able to fill out their FAFSA in October, the same time as when many seniors fill out their college applications. Allowing students to fill out their FAFSA earlier will bring families a much needed chance to get ahead on their scholarship applications. Experts predict the change may help more students qualify for federal financial aid.

Many of the 2016 presidential candidates have also been interested in lowering college costs for students.

Among the most progressive proposals, Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the three candidates for the Democratic nomination, is pushing to make college tuition at state-supported universities free for students. Sanders wants the United States to follow Germany, Norway and Sweden, some of the countries that already offer free tuition for bachelor’s degrees.

Democrat Hillary Clinton recently announced her plan, called the “New College Compact.” Clinton wants to create a way for students and their families to avoid taking out loans to pay for tuition and books.

Clinton’s plan would require families to make an “affordable family contribution” to help fund a student’s college education.

Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley has also proposed a plan to allow college students to graduate debt free by creating work-study programs in public colleges, allowing students to refinance their loans and capping college tuition costs.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is running for the Republican nomination, has implemented his plan to make college more affordable in his own state. For the next two years, college tuition will be frozen and schools will be funded based on graduation rates, not enrollments. He hopes to take his plan to the national level if he is elected president in 2016.

Countries all over the world fund college education, making tuition free. Denmark not only offers its students free tuition, but also funds their education for up to six years by paying their students to be enrolled in a university.

Students are not required to pay back the government even if they decide to drop out of school.

But there is a catch. Countries that fund college tuition have a much higher tax rate than the United States and a lower enrollment percentage. While our trillions of dollars in national debt might make that impossible here, one thing is certain. A new approach is needed.

College tuition is making it nearly impossible for graduates to pay off their debts and start their lives, and this must change so students are able to live the lives they have been promised.

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