Monday, February 06, 2023

Higher education unattainable for too many

by Daily Inter Lake
| August 28, 2022 12:00 AM

“It’s a terrible idea.”

That’s how Sen. Steve Daines, along with the vast majority of his Republican colleagues, characterized President Biden’s plan to cancel up to $10,000 in student debt for tens of millions of Americans who earn less than $125,000 annually. The plan would also cancel up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.

Republicans like Daines, and some moderate Democrats, are calling the proposal unfair to the folks who have already repaid their college loans, and chalk it up as a simple transfer of wealth that mostly benefits the white-collar class.

True, and true again.

The plan is unfair to the people who worked hard to repay their college loans, whittling away at the amount dollar by dollar until the balance hit zero. It’s also unfair to college graduates who opted for less expensive routes to a higher education, like public or community college — possibly forgoing their dream school while minding the purse strings.

And there is no doubt that Biden’s unfunded proposal is yet another transfer of wealth that saddles many taxpayers who never went to college with paying off someone else’s debt. The total cost of the plan rings in at between $400 billion to $600 billion, with some estimates pegging the average burden per taxpayer at $2,503.

Daines’ criticism is correct and justified.

But what he and other Republicans conveniently gloss over are all the other “unfair” debt cancellation programs handed down by the federal government in recent years that also mostly benefited higher-income earners: namely the billions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans disbursed during the Covid pandemic. The White House was quick to point out that hypocrisy in a series of Tweets last week highlighting Republican members of Congress who personally benefited from those loans, like Pennsylvania congressman Mike Kelly who the White House said had nearly $1 million in PPP loans forgiven.

But while the right and left trade jabs over the debt cancellation plan, few are talking about the root problem: The cost of college is outrageously expensive and unattainable for a huge portion of the population.

When taking into account tuition and fees, room and board, books and other supplies, an academic year at Montana State University for a Montana resident currently costs $24,256. Live out of state? That annual bill nearly doubles.

That sum puts a new college graduate about $100,000 to $200,000 in debt as they enter the workforce during a time when wages seriously lag behind the ballooning cost of living. How can a new graduate expect to realize the American dream of homeownership when they come out of the gate in such a massive financial hole?

It’s no wonder more Americans are skipping out on college. A National Student Clearinghouse report issued earlier this year shows that undergraduate enrollment in the U.S. has been on the decline since about 2012, with about 1 million fewer students in college today compared to just two years ago.

“That could be the beginning of a whole generation of students rethinking the value of college itself,” Doug Shapiro of Clearinghouse told NPR.

Instead of blowing hot air about which debt cancellation scheme is more worthy than another, let’s start looking at solving the under-lying problem. While college isn’t for everyone, everyone should have a reasonable chance at a higher education and the American dream.

There’s nothing unfair about that.

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