The news that Americans now owe more student loan debt than they do on their credit cards is good news from one point of view: better spend money you don’t have on education than on fancy dinners and trips to Las Vegas. A country that responds to recession and bad times by studying harder and learning new skills has got lots of strength in it.But there can be too much of a good thing. Recent figures reported by USA Today say that last year saw $100 billion in new student loans taken out, and this year the total owed is expected to pass $1 trillion for the first time.Let’s be clear: much of that debt can never and will never be repaid. Young, naive and inexperienced students take out loans for programs they don’t fully understand, pushed by unscrupulous institutions (and both for-profit and non-profit institutions are often willing to take advantage of young students), and many of these students will either not complete the programs or not find better paying jobs when they are done.The American educational system works pretty well at the top; you pay a lot of money to go to Princeton but the experience is worth a lot and your prospects coming out are not bad. At the other end, many community colleges provide useful skills training at reasonable costs.But too much of the system is dysfunctional, and it is students who pay the biggest price for the failures. With an uncertain outlook for law schools and other professional programs ranging from MFA to MBA failing to deliver good value for the money at many institutions, something has got to give.It’s not surprising that the OWS folks are looking at ways to make student loans part of their still evolving agenda. Trouble is, this is more of a Tea Party issue (too much government) issue than OWS (more subsidies now, please). Wall Street, to be sure, has looked for ways to raise fees and costs for students, but the student loan problem is ultimately one of government subidies gone bad.Government subsidies for higher education have been poorly structured; government backing for student loans is a subsidy of colleges and of banks, not of students. I have written before about how government-backed loans and administrative mandates promote the administrative bloat and mission creep that forces tuition up year after year.Right now, our higher ed system works best for administrators and tenured or tenure track professionals. Skills training and liberal arts education aren’t sufficiently distinguished; many BA and MA programs could be restructured as much cheaper and faster vocational education programs. Most students in American colleges today probably do not need or want a traditional four year liberal education. They are there because they need to get their tickets punched so they can move on to the next stage — a job or the next ticket punching vocational program. In many cases, setting up a competency testing exam would allow students to take only those courses they need while assuring employers that job applicants had demonstrated an appropriate level of competence.In any case, rather than coming up with new mandates for traditional college campuses that drive up the cost of college education while doing little for quality, governments,educators, accreditation boards and employers need to work on some radical changes that make it possible for young people to learn what they need to know without saddling themselves with unpayable debt. Given the parlous state of federal and state government finance, this can only be by making higher ed more efficient — not by pumping new subsidies into the system we’ve got.