Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Search Previous Previous Next Next
Read Me - Elena's Journal
Read Me
How Obama's College Plan Hurts My Generation

As a college sophomore who works as an editor at a personal finance website, I'm well aware of the problems facing students. I've gotten emails from peers who were forced to leave their first-choice colleges mid-year because of financial constraints. I have friends who have taken on $80,000 of debt to finance four years at a private college. One friend of mine was told by his parents that he will have to take on a substantial debt load for his final two years of college because of a decline in the value of the stocks they hold.

But Obama's ideas do nothing to confront the heart of the problem. The issue isn't just that students can't come up with the cash for college, it’s that the cost of college is growing far too fast. From 2002 to 2006, tuition and fees at public universities rose 57%, according to The College Board. That's more than three times the rate of inflation and, more troubling, far faster than our real economic and wage growth over that period.

Increasing the federal Pell Grant program sounds noble, but it really isn't. Given the state of the federal budget, is it really fair for people like me to pay for college by borrowing from the next generation? That isn't just irresponsible. It's immoral. The Baby Boomers have already victimized my generation this way by elevating the national debt to nearly $35,000 for every man, woman and child in America. This was a myopic act of selfishness that my friends and I will spend a good portion of our lives paying for, but the last thing we should do is pass it onto our children with interest.
Why should colleges worry about cutting costs when the federal government is lending students more money each year to cover tuition hikes, and families are all too willing to take it? The most reprehensible of these programs is the Federal PLUS loan program, which allows parents to take out loans to help their kids pay for college. In 2004, the parents of 15.3% of graduating seniors took out Federal PLUS loans, with an average loan amount of $17,709, according to The Project on Student Debt.
In fact, a tightening in the student loan market could be just the tough love students need to get them to pay for college the right way: by working 80-hour weeks during the summer, and taking advantage of work-study opportunities. It could push students to take summer classes at a community college (I did this last summer) so they can graduate in less time. Or do their first two years at a community college while working full-time and living at home, then transferring to a more prestigious school to complete their junior and senior years. Or how about this wild idea: spend a little less money on weed.

* Colleges depend on federal financial aid to help students pay their outrageous tuition bills. This provides the federal government with leverage: 5,400 colleges participate in the Federal Pell Grant program. The federal government needs to hold schools taking taxpayer money accountable for controlling their costs.

* Re-tool the financial aid program to award more aid to students who are making decisions aimed at minimizing their college costs—and discourage students from using federal aid to attend expensive colleges when there are alternatives.

* Change the financial aid formula to reward students who work hard and save money to pay for college. Under the current system, a huge portion of a student's earnings and savings are deducted from his financial need. This means that a student who spends every night playing video games is judged to have more financial need than one who works three jobs and buys clothing at thrift stores.

* Push more students to attend community colleges for the first two years, and make transferring easier by requiring all colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs to establish clear and reasonable policies for accepting transfer credits from community colleges. Also, require that colleges set aside a certain number of places each year for students transferring from community colleges. Some colleges will no doubt object to this meddling. Be strong, Mr. Obama: tell them that if they don't like it they can find someone else to pay for their inflated costs.

* Hold Congressional hearings on the cost of college, and haul in the chancellors of the five colleges that have implemented the largest annual tuition increases over the past five years. Ask them why they can't control their costs, and what they're going to do about it.

Tags: , ,

6 comments or Leave a comment
banditess From: banditess Date: November 10th, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
makes me glad i worked my ass off to pay for agnes without any loans, and even more glad that i only have to pay them one last time in january. >< that was a really interesting article. thanks for posting!
elena From: elena Date: November 10th, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
glad you liked.
raidingparty From: raidingparty Date: November 10th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
The third bullet at the end is problematic: There is no way to tell the difference between the student who has no savings because he spends every night playing video games and the student who has no savings because he's given it all to his parents to help pay for rent and food.
akaneko From: akaneko Date: November 11th, 2008 04:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Re-tool the financial aid program to award more aid to students who are making decisions aimed at minimizing their college costs...

The above principle may seem self-evidently true, but there can be some very perverse results in practice. My own college has a fairly strict policy that all degree-seeking students must take at least 13 credits per semester unless they submit paperwork demonstrating that they have something that constitutes a pretty good excuse as determined by some mystery committee one never actually meets. Such permission is fairly easy to get if one's excuse is among the laundry list of routinely-approved excuses, but even if one has it, it remains very difficult to receive any sort of scholarship money or other types of financial aid, since most such things have a stipulation that one must be a full-time student at all times to get them. The rationale behind this is that supposedly it is financially a very bad thing to take more than four years to complete an undergraduate degree, and students can't be trusted to make their own judgments on what pace they need to go at to achieve their academic goals.

To abbreviate a long story that's a little too personal to post the entirety of here - though I'm certainly willing to discuss it elsewhere to folk who are interested - I'm ending up spending a fifth year as an undergraduate because of perverse incentives created by this policy. I have always had a superfluity of credits as an undergraduate due to coursework I completed while in high school, and could easily have graduated in three years if I had lowered my average course load. Right now I am spending additional semesters retaking courses I got grades in that I wasn't happy with; my GPA isn't bad as is, but I mean to go to grad school at some point, and if I want to get into some of the stuff I may want to get into, it needs to be better. Had I just plain taken fewer courses in certain semesters than I ended up taking, I'd've gotten grades suitable for the educational and career goals I have in mind for the future in the first place.

I am fairly certain that my case is a rather tame example of this sort of thing compared to what many other students experience who have more non-academic responsibilities in their life than I do. Often policies meant to encourage some given behavior in a student body that will supposedly be conducive to "graduating on time" and "exercising fiscal responsibility" can just plain make things more complicated to deal with for many students if they aren't extremely well thought-out and extremely well-implemented.
(Deleted comment)
elena From: elena Date: November 30th, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The problem...

You are preaching to the choir. My personal argument is much the same.

But trying to change something that has become so terribly ingrained in our way of thinking is incredibly difficult to try and escape. We can say "its CULTURE's fault", but really, its the fault of those individuals who choose to participate and allow themselves to think that its the only way. Such as, jobs only offering positions to people with degrees though in many cases those jobs are pushovers for anyone with a brain.

You notice how "college" has become "undergrad" in the last few years?

My mother speaks about a sort of anti-elitism or anti-education sentiment that has pervaded how people view education or people with education, her argument being how people vote politically. A part of me wonders how much of that reflects a general underlying sentiment, but I don't think its very significant but for talking points ("he's elitist blah blah blah") and how people treat them like biblical truth. (Ask Thane about his crazy coworker sometime, who "believes" that Obama is a Muslim.)

You also have to take into consideration that apprenticeships and trade schools are different than they were 50-60 years ago -- much more technologically oriented in a lot of cases, and relatively more rare. Apprenticeships for various types of carpentry and masonry skills, those involving things like furniture, or other manufacturing jobs that used to exist in the united states that have been shipped overseas in the last 20 years. Rebuilding a manufacturing infrastructure would/will be expensive.

I could go on about super fancy school campuses and prussian public school education, but I'm wandering a little here.. but if we're talking about "values", which is another way to say or an aspect of "culture", its all connected.

I think the approach of the article writer is very intelligent and makes the best of what is expected of a human being socially in the good old USA. Right now, to "beat the system" (which is an american value in itself) you want to get through school while paying as little as possible, in loans or cash.

I'm hoping that the failure of the mortgage system and the following "credit crunch" will lead to people being more realistic about what they can buy and how, education loans to credit card expenditures. The government is completely fucked -- 10 Trillion is an amount of money I can't really fathom. If the government, instead of funding gratuitous programs like they are fond of doing (even in education, which I think is something that we should continue to fund to individuals), tries to be more efficient and takes notes of the ideas within the above article, it may help change the way people view, or at the very least approach their educational goals.
(Deleted comment)
elena From: elena Date: November 30th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The problem...

Next time I see you I will probably be up to my eyeballs in SOLAR players. But if you want to hang out sometime, or chat on AIM, I'm pretty much always around. :B
6 comments or Leave a comment