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Possible Extension of Social Security Benefits to Students

With the Obama administration's renewed efforts to put more Americans through college, new ways are being explored to reduce the burden of higher education costs. One proposal that may gain traction is the possible extension of Social Security benefits to the children of deceased or disabled workers who are enrolled in colleges and universities.

This is one of the ways in which Social Security offers benefits for family members.

As lawmakers look to enact initiatives to meet the administration's goal of more college graduates, the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) has released a brief recommending that Social Security benefits be provided for students 22 and younger. The proposal could have a dramatic impact on the practical affordability of a college education for young people across the country.

Many may not be aware that NASI's recommendation would actually be a return to the way the system worked more than 25 years ago. Social Security benefits are currently only provided to dependents under 18 (or 19 if in high school) who are the children of deceased or disabled workers. However, from 1965 to 1983, those benefits were continued through age 22 if the child was enrolled in a post-secondary school.

A college or technical degree is generally not only the best way to find a good job, but it also may be essential for long-term career security in today's economy. This is a point that the president has reiterated time and again. Among the findings included in the NASI brief: the wage gap between college and high school graduates is significantly greater today than it was when the Social Security benefit extension ended in 1983.

If enacted, the proposal would go a long way toward alleviating the increasingly costly burden of a college education. The average cost of a four-year education at a typical public institution, including campus living expenses, has increased since 1983 by around twice as much after adjusting for inflation, while the relative value of student Pell grants has essentially remained static, according to NASI.

Who would benefit if the proposal was enacted? Individuals must be the children of either retirees who are currently receiving Social Security payments or disabled parents who have worked long enough to be entitled to benefits. As it is currently worded, beneficiaries would also have to be under 22-years-old and enrolled in post-secondary education, which would include any college or university.

Whether the current proposal will be enacted remains to be seen, but obtaining higher education is a fundamental issue.

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