More and more students are being forced to drop out of universities, colleges and vocational schools because they cannot afford tuition, according to a new education ministry survey.

The economic downturn means many young people can no longer afford higher education. More students than ever before, most of them from less well-off families, are finding that the dream of studying must be given up because they cannot pay for it.

The education ministry survey of 1,163 of 1,191 Japanese public and private universities, two-year colleges and vocational schools found that nearly 80,000 students permanently left higher education in 2013. The number of students who left college temporarily was nearly 70,000. Lack of money was the top reason given by students who quit or took leave.

The number of students who paid tuition late also increased to over 10,000, according to universities, though the exact numbers were surely under-reported. Universities have had to become increasingly flexible about collecting tuition. More than 70 percent of schools said more and more students are asking for tuition exemptions or split payments.

In America, students graduated from college with an average student loan debt of $29,400, according to a 2013 report. Seven in 10 college seniors graduated in debt. Japan may not have reached the level of the American crisis in which the country’s total federal student loan debt has reached a staggering $1.2 trillion, according to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but Japan seems to be heading in that direction.

The total amount of loan debt was not estimated in the survey in Japan, but it should be, so we can see the larger picture of how college tuition affects the overall economy. Taking on a very large debt to pay for schooling can be a long-term, serious financial burden for individuals and families. It also reduces the stability of the economy and, therefore, the potential upward mobility of the society.

The ministry offered tentative plans to introduce interest-free loans and offer flexibility in paying back loans. However, their efforts may be a case of too little too late. Japanese schools have relatively few scholarships compared with schools in other countries. Both the schools and the government should set up more.

Deserving students who may not have enough money should be given the help they need to complete their schooling. As the slogan for the United Negro College Fund, one of the most important sources of money for students in America, says: A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Helping students to achieve their educational goals is an investment in the country’s future. Until greater financial assistance is offered by the government, schools and the very companies where graduates will eventually work, the educational system looks likely to intensify an unfair gap between the rich and the poor.

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