Higher education should be more accessible

By Anthony Maddaleni

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Last week, I was doing laundry in my dorm. I paid the $1.50 and waited the 30 minutes to retrieve my belongings. As I gathered my clothing to place it in the dryer, I realized I was holding a congealed ball of soggy shirts, socks and pants. One of the washers was broken. Again. The dryers were also all occupied, owing to the fact that one of them was broken, with harsh black tape covering the coin slot. It took me over three hours to do laundry that day.

I fully realize that in the grand scheme of things this is a laughably minor issue. However, consider the principle behind it. Most of us are paying to live on campus. For me, with the meal plan included, I’m paying close to $4,000 to live at UMass. They can’t even send someone to fix the washers or dryers? They can’t make sure that we consistently have hot water in our showers? I would like to know where our tuition money is going. What is the University funding at my personal expense? Consider this, if we were living in an apartment somewhere, would we put up with faulty maintenance? There would be some system of accountability where we could air our grievances. At UMass this is not the case.

We have accepted the fact that we must pay close to $25,000 in state tuition and the cost is even higher for out-of-state students. We have accepted the fact that the administration will spend our money on constructing new facilities that most of us will never set foot in. We have accepted these things, and that is why the administration is taking advantage of us.

What if the administration put even a third of the money they’re currently investing in the athletic programs and put it toward expanding student scholarships? This is merely one example of something UMass could be doing if they truly cared about their students.

We are a public university. Cost should not be an issue. The true mission of this university should be to provide access to higher education, which it is utterly failing at achieving.

Tuition at UMass is $857. The rest of our costs are considered fees. There’s a curriculum fee, $4,707, a service fee, $675.50, and an activity fee, $62.50, among others. In other words, the University is skirting around the “free tuition” issue. Even if one were to receive the Abigail Adams scholarship, he or she would still be paying nearly full price at UMass.

This is not just an issue at UMass. Between 1978 and 2007, higher education spending in the United States increased by 21 percent while the spending in our prison system increased by a staggering 127 percent. It was also estimated that in 2007 the U.S. spent nearly $74 billion on our correctional system. This should also be coupled with the fact that 44 percent of our total GDP, or $682 billion a year, goes toward our defense budget.

By comparison, President Barack Obama’s plan for free community college tuition will cost a total of $60 billion over 10 years. I’ve never been very good at math but I think $60 billion over 10 years, which equates to roughly six billion dollars a year, is slightly cheaper than the nearly $800 billion dollars we spend on both defense and incarceration every year in the United States. Priorities? As a nation, we are absolutely fine with investing in our military and prisons, but education is not a pressing issue to our elected officials. This is sad on many levels.

Having a college degree allows an individual to access higher paying jobs that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Access to higher education can also enable an individual to transition out of poverty, which would save our economy money in the long run. But things will not change in this nation unless we, as young people, demand it.

Unless we alter the higher education monopoly to work for us instead of against us, colleges will be more than happy to take advantage of their students. People allow themselves to be exploited if they refuse to question the status quo. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pondering why we as students are forced to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a decreasingly useful undergraduate degree.

Hopefully, young people will continue to organize and demand change, for that is the only way that anyone will take us seriously.

Anthony Maddeleni is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected][liveblog]