End of the college loan shark
College is not only about learning information. It’s not only about learning job skills, finding a prospective career or helping you get a better job. Well, it is about all those things, but more importantly, it’s about learning how to live life.
We have never met anyone who said they didn’t enjoy and appreciate their college experience. The problem that arises is most people’s post-college experience. Especially in these hard times, college students are coming out of school saddled with debt and unable to get a job. This problem doesn’t just affect our financial situations, but the rest of our lives, and can in fact close the doors that college is meant to open for us.
As many of you may have noticed on Wednesday, there were people standing around the Franklin and Berkshire Dining Commons and the campus center asking you to call your senators. I know, you think we’re crazy, but I’ll tell you what – this may have been the most important event of your college career. Right now, there is a bill going to the Senate (the U.S. one, not the Student Government Association), and that bill will literally change your life. It’s a bailout. A bailout for you.
This bill, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), will invest tens of billions of dollars into schools just like the mighty University of Massachusetts. It will increase the Pell Grant Scholarship funds by $40 billion. It will invest $3 billion to increase other college grant programs. It will send $2.55 billion to schools that have historically helped the disenfranchised and people of color. Heck, it will even make those darn Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) forms your parents make you fill out easier.
When Andrew Proten was a freshman, he took out a $5,000 loan with an interest rate of 2.8 percent. Awesome. But alas, he found out after putting his John Hancock on it that the interest rate jumped to 12 percent. This is called an adjustable interest rate. An adjustable interest rate is basically a fancy way of saying, “We can change your contract whenever we want to for no reason.” This is where they really get you when you miss a payment on your adjustable loan. If that happens, a loan provider can increase your interest rate to 20-plus percent. Azeen Khanmalek is going to graduate in May with about $85,000 in debt, and has no idea how or when he will pay that off. What kinds of jobs are available right now that will pay enough to support yourself and pay off loans? Azeen wants to go to graduate school, and maybe do service work for a year, but how can one do so if loan amounts increase with interest? In a lot of ways, it simply isn’t fair. How are we expected to succeed if we have to put ourselves in the hole before we really even start our lives?
Think about it, if you wanted to be a teacher (like Andrew) or a social worker, how could you afford to go into a relatively low-paying (but critically needed) career if you had, say, $80,000 in loans to pay off? College is meant to give us opportunities and expand our choices. Yet the way we fund our higher education system seems to have the opposite effect.
Over the years, the cost of school has skyrocketed much faster than inflation. Andrew learned in a political science class the other day that the cost of one year at a decent law school in 1929 was $300 (about $2,800 in today’s dollars). But now, a half decent law school costs at least $30,000 a year. That’s an increase of about 1,000 percent.
According to an October 2007 New York Times article, the cost of college rose at more than double the rate of inflation that year alone, with the cost of public schools rising at an even higher rate. We are willing to admit that college costs are what they are for a reason. We appreciate the high level of education, the opportunity to go to a nationally ranked school and all the resources that the University provides for us. So we understand that we have to shell out a certain amount of money for all those nice things. We are not demanding that the prices are substantially dropped (at least not right this second), but something needs to be done. That something is the Pell Grant.
Throughout our history, the U.S. government has had to step in to help citizens in need who cannot compete in an expensive economy through subsidies. We subsidize corn (a non-digestible food item), sugar, milk, meat and almost the entire U.S. agricultural industry. So isn’t higher education worth it too? We certainly think so.
Luckily, we now have President Barack Obama who sees that this is pretty messed up. SAFRA is not a cure-all or a magic bullet, but it is one heck of a start. Now, we are not diehard followers of the “Obamessiah,” but we have to say that ever since he came into office, a lot of people in Congress started getting their heads out of their private assets. We know that we might struggle financially for the rest of our lives, but we also know that we can prevent other students from experiencing the same thing.
If we all agree that the college experience is important, then shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity that we’ve had? The best part is that SAFRA, if passed, will take effect next year, which means we could see results almost immediately. So please, if you want to change the way we pay for college and make it more equitable for students all over the country, take action. Lobby on your own behalf. Call your senators; tell them you need better college funding. Tell them that you don’t want your life to be a constant financial struggle just because you wanted to get an education. Tell them that students are the future of this country, and we need all the help we can get.
Azeen Khanmalek and Andrew Prowten are SGA senators. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.