Student loan debt has climbed in the past decade to become one of the biggest problems facing the U.S. economy. Approximately 40 million Americans hold student loans, collectively totaling about $1.2 trillion—an amount that surpasses all other types of household debt, except mortgages. According to a 2012 survey conducted by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), architecture school graduates face especially high debt upon graduation—those with B.Arch. degrees owe an average of $42,300 in federal and private loans, and students graduating with M.Arch. degrees leave school with an average of $72,000 in loans. The average 2014 graduate with student loan debt owes about $33,000, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
The bipartisan National Design Services Act, reintroduced in Congress yesterday, could alleviate debt by providing loan assistance to architecture students and recent graduates who work in underprivileged U.S. communities designing public projects such as schools, health clinics, housing facilities, and libraries. First presented in 2014 by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) and Rep. Brad Ashford (D-Neb.), the bill was reintroduced by Perlmutter and co-sponsored by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.).
Backed by the AIA and the AIAS, the bill would authorize the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create a program allowing students to work with community design centers in exchange for assistance with their federal and private student loans. For each year of service, the secretary of the HUD will pay a certain amount of the student’s loan. HUD will either apply loan repayments directly to loan balances or provide grants for internships at community design centers.
"Architects should be able to bring ideas to our community development to help design public buildings, schools, hospitals, and to provide designs and ideas for energy-efficient or water-efficient types of projects—and also enable students to get some help with their student debt," Perlmutter said last year in an interview with ARCHITECT.
Read the full Q+A from 2014 with Perlmutter here.