``The doubling of student debt since the recession, to $1.19 trillion, has stoked a national discussion over how to rein in college costs and debt and is becoming a major issue in the 2016 presidential race. Little noted in the outcry is the disproportionate role played by postgraduate borrowers, who now account for roughly 40% of all student debt but represent just 14% of students in higher education.

Propelling the surge in grad-school debt is a welter of federal programs that make it easy for students to borrow large amounts, then to have substantial chunks of those debts eventually forgiven. Critics of the system say it makes it easier for graduate schools to raise tuition, and for some high-earning graduates such as doctors to escape debts they can afford to repay.

"What we're doing is randomly subsidizing lots of people without careful thought," says Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute think tank, who has advised Hillary Clinton's campaign. "That's just really problematic.''


Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), chairman of the committee overseeing education, has proposed reinstating loan limits for grad students as part of an overhaul of education policy that could face votes later this year.


A 2007 measure created a debt-forgiveness program to encourage grad students to become teachers, public defenders and other public-service positions that don't pay well but are deemed to benefit society. Under the program, borrowers working full time for a government agency or nonprofit employer can have their remaining debts forgiven if they make 120 monthly payments--10 years worth--on time.

Under a separate law, private-sector workers can generally have balances forgiven after 20 years.

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