Editor's note: There are dozens of newspapers across the state of Kentucky. Each Tuesday, this space will be dedicated to what one of those papers thinks about the issues facing their communities and this state.

To obtain a college degree, many students must take out student loans to pay their way through school.

There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, since some students aren't as well off as others, or their grade-point average isn't sufficiently high enough to obtain scholarships.

Today, Americans collectively owe about $1.5 trillion in student loans -- more than twice the total of a decade ago. This is a staggering number that shows the high cost of attending college must be addressed.

Those who attend college with student loans and get their degree are, on average, left with about $30,000 in student loan debt as soon as they complete their degree. This is quite a lot of money for a 22- or 23-year-old college graduate to pay off, especially when many might not have found employment right out of school.

Those who have student loans are obviously having a hard time paying them back in a timely manner because of the large amount of debt incurred and the very high cost of attending colleges and universities across this country.

Obviously, we need to do something to help these college graduates pay their student loans off more quickly. The question is what.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, has filed a bill called the Higher Education Loan Repayment and Enhanced Retirement, or HELPER, Act. The bill would allow annual tax and penalty-free withdrawals up to $5,250 from a 401(k), 403(b), 457 or IRA to help people pay for college or to pay back student loan debt. The bill would also allow parents or spouses to make withdrawals from their accounts to help make payments. Paul notes that up to $15,750 pre-tax dollars per year could be available to pay for college if two parents and their college-bound child each put aside the maximum amount of $5,250 per year.

This is certainly an interesting proposal by Paul. One concern we have, though, is while it is obviously a college graduate's right to take money out of a retirement account to help pay down their student loans, by doing so they could have a smaller nest egg when they reach retirement age.

While this legislation would be voluntary if passed, we believe it would be ill-advised for people in their 20s and even early 30s to drain these accounts, because they are forgoing the advantages of compounding interest while they are drawing down their accounts.

The real problem, once again, lies with the high cost of attending college and the daunting challenge of paying off these loans just as graduates are entering the workforce and perhaps starting a family.

We respect Paul and have supported many things he has proposed and voted on while he's served in the U.S. Senate, but on this one issue we simply disagree with him.

We do appreciate, though, that Paul has brought this issue to the forefront, because it is one that has to be discussed and dealt with like the serious problem it is.

-- Bowling Green Daily News

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