Debt is the true price of a college education
On Feb. 7, the U.S. secretary of education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education held a public hearing in Seattle. Participants asked for responses to questions about access, quality, cost and more. As a student facing these issues right now, there's one question on the commission's agenda that I care about specifically: "What is the true price of a college education?"
For me, and for millions of other students around the country, the true price of a college education is more than just dollars: it's debt. Debt from student loans can take a lifetime to pay off and have major consequences. When I start paying more than $200 a month on my student loans, how will I save for retirement, buy a house, start a family or even afford to live as a graduate doing social work? Plus, Congress just approved higher interest rates for student loans: 6.8 percent for students and 8.5 percent for parent loans. That could mean thousands more in interest costs for borrowers such as me.
Student debt is already the highest it's ever been: Two-thirds of full-time students at four-year schools have student loans, and their average debt load grew a whopping 60 percent over the past decade. That's because even public universities now cost more than most people can afford, not to mention other necessities such as housing and textbooks. Nationally, people graduating from four-year public colleges in 2004 had an average $17,600 in student loans.
As a student who is funding my own education, student loans have been a necessity. In my first two years at the University of Washington, I struggled to maintain my grades while working 30-35 hours a week at a local restaurant in order to pay living expenses. Between class and work, I had no time to engage in the campus community or experience "college life." During my junior year, I chose to take out even more student loans and work less. I finally had the opportunity to get involved with student groups on campus and take advantage of some of what the UW has to offer outside the classroom. The lessons I learned through working and volunteering with student organizations and attending community events have been invaluable to my education. However, it has come at a cost. Even with loans and two jobs, I struggle to pay the rent for my modest apartment each month, and buy groceries and textbooks with my credit card. I will graduate in the spring with more than $15,000 in loan debt, an intimidating thought for a student with ambitions to have a career in social work.
Everyone tells you that borrowing for education is a good investment, that you'll make a million dollars more than people with just a high school diploma; that you should do whatever it takes to get that degree. And we do, because a college degree is just about the only way to get into, or stay in, the middle class. But student debt can hold you back instead of helping you get ahead like college is supposed to. Not everyone gets a high-paying job when they graduate. Even if you do, what if the company goes under, or your car breaks down, or your mom gets sick? A hefty student loan bill every month leaves too many young adults without anything to fall back on when times are tough.
Student debt is the true price we pay for college: We pay a lot longer than it takes to get a degree, not to mention a lot more than we actually borrow, thanks to a nearly incomprehensible system that keeps piling on interest and fees even when struggling borrowers do everything right. In a case from right here in Seattle, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the government can even take money out of retirees' Social Security checks if they still owe on their student loans.
Having to borrow more and more to get a decent education makes college more risky instead of more accessible, limits our choices of schools and careers and jeopardizes the quality of our education. If the commission is truly concerned about access, choice and quality, it should address the growing problem of student debt and consider reforms to our financial aid system. Student loans should help increase opportunity, not condemn the college-educated to financial instability.
Ashley Miller is a senior at the Jackson School of International Studies and is vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Washington.
Boo Hoo Ashley.
Here is a thought... take a look at the ASUW Legislative Agenda and see if there maybe some ways to cut out some costs. Or maybe it would be quicker if we pointed out the areas where the ASUW was not in favor of doing things that raise costs. Here are just a few examples of what the ASUW is in favor of:
We support maintaining current state law which provides in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants.
We support raising student employee and staff salaries, as well as the restoration of benefits to the highest level previously provided.
We support raising faculty salaries and benefits to comparable levels of peer institutions.
We support the continued and expanded recognition of domestic partnerships and measures promoting marital equality.
We support the right of collective bargaining for academic employees.
We support requiring institutions of higher education to offer comprehensive and affordable health care coverage to all students, their spouses, domestic partners, and dependents.
We support state funding for the construction and operation of student-centered on-site childcare facilities and the expansion of childcare services on campus.
We support funding of a safer environment for the UW Community.
We support any measure that would decrease pollution and increase the usage of renewable resources on campus.
We oppose the sale, donation, or distribution of personal student information to third parties without student approval.
We oppose any effort to limit the civil rights of students or to increase their liability or punishment based on their status as students.
We support measures encouraging environmentally-friendly transportation.
We support measures that would ease the transportation burden of students.
We oppose all transportation measures that negatively impact the UW Community.
If Ashley and her friends had there way, the cost of educating her would skyrocket, just do not ask her to pay for it.