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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,607
Registered: 12/3/04
We must hate our children
Posted: Jul 2, 2013 7:36 PM
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*********************************
From Salon, Monday, July 1, 2013. See
http://www.salon.com/2013/07/01/we_must_hate_our_children/
*********************************
We must hate our children

We crush them with debt to go to college -- and
today, rates are actually set to double. Are we
out of our minds?

By Joan Walsh

[This article has been corrected since it first
published.
http://www.salon.com/about/corrections/ ]

Next time you're watching a college graduation,
as you look out over the sea of caps and gowns,
make sure you notice the ball and chain most
graduates are wearing as they march onstage to
receive their diplomas. That's student loan debt,
which at over $1 trillion tops credit card debt
in the U.S. today. The average burden is $28,000,
but add in their credit cards and they're
graduating with an average of $35,000 in debt.
It's no wonder that people who've paid off their
student loan debt are 36 percent more likely to
own homes than those who haven't, according to
new research by the One Wisconsin Now Institute
and Progress Now.
[http://www.onewisconsinnow.org/press/institute-new-national-research-shows-trillion-dollar-student-loan-debt-crisis-a-clear-and-present-d.html
]

What kind of society sends its young people from
higher education into adulthood this way? I'm
aware I'm only talking about those lucky enough
to go to college, when roughly one-third of high
school graduates don't - but if this is the way
we treat our relatively lucky kids, the rest of
them don't have a prayer. For many, the school to
prison pipeline functions much more efficiently
than the school to college one; California is one
of at least 10 states that now spends more on
prison than higher education. According to the
Federal Reserve Bank, two-thirds of college
graduates leave with some debt, and 37 million
Americans are repaying a student loan right now.

Unbelievably, interest rates on federally
subsidized loans are doubling today, from 3.4 to
6.8 percent. As Congress bickers over
alternatives, even Democrats are backing
"market-based" plans that aren't as bad as GOP
ideas, but aren't good either. I hope they can
find a way to lower interest rates, but the real
scandal isn't the rate hike. The real scandal is
that we take for granted that young people must
go into debt - at whatever interest rate - to pay
for college.

Of course, the truly lucky kids - those blessed
wealthy members of the Lucky Sperm Club - sail
through higher education without debt. But today,
even upper-middle-class kids are having to take
out loans, as the average annual cost of a
four-year public university soars above $22,000,
while private schools are over $50,000. Who the
hell thinks this is a good idea?

***

I used to find it endearing when President Obama
talked about how he and Michelle finally paid off
their student loans after he was elected to the
Senate. But in a way, the president's folksy
anecdote helped normalize what should be
outrageous: that we expect young people to go
deep in debt, well into middle age, to get a good
education. Of course, the Obamas' story should
come with an asterisk, since much of their debt
was built up paying for Harvard Law School, and
clearly, that paid off for them. The assumption
that students should borrow money to pay for an
undergraduate degree, and that the only debate is
over how high their interest rate should be, is
seriously crazy.

As David Dayen explained in this great Salon
piece
[http://www.salon.com/2013/06/05/let_college_students_go_bankrupt/
], we shouldn't even call them student "loans,"
because you can't refinance them, and you can't
get out from under them by declaring bankruptcy.
It's more like indenture. There's no statute of
limitation on collecting student loans, and
lenders can garnish wages, tax refunds and even
Social Security checks. Back in 2007, now-Sen.
Elizabeth Warren asked: "Why should students who
are trying to finance an education be treated
more harshly than someone Š who racked up tens of
thousands of dollars gambling?" Nothing's
changed, although Warren is part of a limited
number of people in Congress who are trying.

In the survey of 61,700 student loan holders
recently completed by One Wisconsin Now and
Progress Now, students with bachelor's degrees
took an average of 19 years to pay off their
loans, at an average cost of $117,000. Their
average monthly payment was $499. And this isn't
a brand-new problem: Of the $1 trillion in
student debt, 60 percent is owed by people over
30.

It wasn't always this way. The postwar American
economic boom had at its heart an intentional,
comprehensive program of making higher education
much more accessible [
http://books.google.com/books?id=iH6jKXSgoRkC&pg=PA183&lpg=PA183&dq=%22private+enrollments+and+by+1970%22+ravitch&source=bl&ots=j1yqx5M3SS&sig=eTtrMP4ADTbMicsZQE_lS0fkZsM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=HybOUb7dN4Oi0AHwkICQBg&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22private%20enrollments%20and%20by%201970%22%20ravitch&f=false
]. In 1946, 2 million Americans attended college
or university, representing only one in eight
college-age students; by 1970, there were 8
million undergraduates, one in three in that age
group. And the balance of enrollment shifted to
public institutions: In the '40s, more college
students attended private colleges; by 1970
three-quarters were enrolled in public ones.
Graduate enrollment spiked, thanks to expanded
research funding, from 120,000 in 1946 to 900,000
in 1970.

States competed to expand their public university
systems - and many were free, or close to it. The
stellar University of California system was
tuition free (though there were fees) until
Ronald Reagan became governor in 1967; so was the
City University of New York system for a long
time. CUNY was from the start an "experiment," in
the words of co-founder Horace Webster, in
"whether the children of the people, the children
of the whole people, can be educated." It was a
contentious experiment, with its admission and
tuition policies shifting back and forth over
many years, but the egalitarianism at its heart,
and through much of its history, can't be denied.
And that was true of most public university
systems. Late in the game, when I graduated from
the University of Wisconsin in 1980, I was still
paying less than $400 a semester. Now it's amost
15 times that, at $5,500 a semester; the annual
cost to an in-state student (including room,
board, books and other fees) is $24,000.

Aaron Bady and Mike Konczal ran down the
California history in a piece about "the slow
death of public higher education" last year. With
the U.C. system's bipartisan 1960 master plan:

The doors of the University of California were
thrown open, tuition-free, for the top 12.5
percent of high school graduates. The top 33.3
percent could find a place in one of the
California State Universities, which were also
tuition-free. Everyone else, if they so chose,
could go to one of the many California Community
Colleges, which were open not only to high school
graduates but also to qualifying non-traditional
students. Perhaps most important, community
college graduates had the opportunity to transfer
to one of the UCs or CSUs to finish their
bachelor's degree, if their grades were above a
certain point. In theory and to a significant
extent in practice, anyone from anywhere in
California could, if they worked hard enough, get
a bachelor's degree from one of the best
universities in the country (and, therefore, in
the world), almost free of charge. The pronounced
social and economic mobility of the postwar
period would have been unthinkable without
institutions of mass higher education, like this
one, provided at public expense.

I got angry about this all over again having
dinner with a friend who's a little older than
me. He finished at the very bottom of his high
school class - and wound up at the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which as late as the '60s
had "open enrollment," and cost $80 a semester.
College unlocked something high school didn't; he
thrived and transferred to Columbia University
and eventually got a Ph.D. That isn't happening
for anyone today, unless their wealthy parents
can buy them into a private university.

Meanwhile, public universities are spending on
new buildings, but they're sharply hiking tuition
as well as either cutting or just maintaining
enrollment. (University of Wisconsin in-state
tuition has doubled in just the last decade.)
[http://hechingerreport.org/content/public-universities-plow-ahead-with-billions-in-construction-despite-tight-budgets_8135/
] The Public Policy Institute of California
(PPIC) found that the share of young people
enrolled in U.C. or California State University
campuses dropped 20 percent in the five years
between 2007 and 2012.
[http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_410HJR.pdf
] "You can go into any community and talk to
somebody whose son or daughter either can't get
in or can't finish [college] because they can't
get this or that course," David Wolf, co-founder
of the Campaign for College Opportunity, told
California Watch. "Meanwhile, they go on campus
and there's all that fresh cement. That's
embarrassing, and it's wrong."

In the 1980s, at the flagship U.C.-Berkeley, more
than half of all applicants were accepted; this
year it was closer to 20 percent, as 67,000
applicants vied for 14,000 acceptances to the
incoming freshman class (of 4,200 students,
unchanged in the last 10 years). Meanwhile, both
public and private aid has shifted from
"need-based aid," [
http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_410HJR.pdf
] which tends to go to lower-income kids, to
"merit-based aid," which is tied to income but
less directly. Not surprisingly, at Ivy League
schools and the "public Ivies" (which includes
the U.C. and U.W. flagship schools), 80 percent
of students admitted come from the top income
quartile of American families; only 2 percent
come from the bottom quartile.

Astonishingly, in 2008, older people born in
California were a third more likely to have
college degrees than younger native Californians,
according to PPIC; elsewhere around the country,
the difference was only 1/16th (30.9 percent
versus 29.0 percent) - but still: young American
adults are less likely than older Americans to
have attended college. This has to be the first
generation for whom that's true. We're putting
the history of American progress in reverse.

***

With student debt so pervasive and crushing, of
course it matters that Congress do something to
keep interest rates from rising. The House GOP is
gloating that (in a bizarre role switch) they've
passed a plan, and the Senate hasn't. The House
GOP plan would send students out into a maze of
"market-based" adjustable rate loans. Why should
someone at age 18 have to navigate a thicket of
variable rate loans, where their interest rate
could double over time? But even the compromise
Obama plan, which would let students lock in a
rate once they decided on a loan, has no cap on
interest rates.

A growing number of voices, including the Fed,
are pointing to the way this debt burden is a
drag not just on the borrowers but the wider
economy. That One Wisconsin Now survey found that
student debt reduces average aggregate car
purchasing by $6.4 billion a year. Young people
are leaving school with the kind of debt that was
once only incurred by the purchase of a first
home; not surprisingly, it's depressing home
buying too.

That practical economic argument is important,
but almost no one is making the larger economic
argument, that expanded access to higher
education is good for everyone, period. There are
proposals to reform the student loan system to
make it more like a standard loan agreement and
less like indenture. The Obama administration has
expanded opportunities to have debt reduced for
those in education or other public interest
careers, which is great. But when we talk about
doing big things again, when we dream about
infrastructure, why are none of our major leaders
advocating for new campuses for our state
universities and colleges?

A Washington Post piece on the interest-rate
impasse noted that Obama and Mitt Romney both
called for Congress to stop the rate hike last
summer, and it happened. "But student-loan policy
has drawn less attention this year now that the
presidential election is over." Indeed. We should
stop mouthing platitudes about how "children are
our future." From preschool to post-graduate
education, we are proving the opposite is true.
[http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/student-loan-rate-likely-to-double-on-monday-but-lawmakers-hope-to-reverse-hike/2013/06/27/0aef31dc-df61-11e2-b2d4-ea6d8f477a01_story.html
]
------------------------------------
SIDEBAR PHOTO: (Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder)
------------------------------------
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the
author of "What's the Matter With White People:
Finding Our Way in the Next America."
**************************************************
--
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu



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