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August 30, 2013

Former president of Harvard University Derek Bok stands with Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust after a news conference in Cambridge, Mass., in 2007. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Former Harvard University president Derek Bok says the average graduate’s student loan debt, which has skyrocketed above $26,000, isn't a serious problem when you consider the value of a college degree.

Bok told the Diane Rehm Show on Thursday that the return on the investment of going to college is as great now as it was when he was president of Harvard in the 1970s and 80s.

“If two-thirds of the students of America have accumulated debts of less than $25,000, I don’t regard that as a serious problem," Bok said. "I think they can easily take care of that.”

In his new book, Higher Education in America, Bok argues the American higher education system has faltered, with graduation rates remaining stagnant and the quality of education slipping.

Still, while some higher-ed observers say the entire system is on the verge of collapse, Bok thinks it’s merely in need of some tinkering. On Thursday, he said while there are real questions about quality and costs, the foundations of American colleges and universities are still strong.

Bok said President Obama’s plan announced last week to create a federal college rating system based on learning outcomes is “a loser from the beginning.”

And Bok, who served as the twenty-fifth president of Harvard from 1971 to 1991, predicted new disruptive technologies, such as massive open online courses, will neither increase graduation rates nor narrow achievement gaps between white students and their black and Latino counterparts.

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