• September 5, 2015

Historic Victory for Student Aid Is Tinged by Lost Possibilities

Historic Victory for Student Aid Is Tinged by Lost Possibilities 1

Charles Dharapak, AP Images

President Obama, who arrived to speak at the U. of Iowa on Thursday, succeeded in pushing legislation through Congress that ended the bank-based system of federally subsidized student loans.

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close Historic Victory for Student Aid Is Tinged by Lost Possibilities 1

Charles Dharapak, AP Images

President Obama, who arrived to speak at the U. of Iowa on Thursday, succeeded in pushing legislation through Congress that ended the bank-based system of federally subsidized student loans.

So, in the end, how much was really accomplished?

More than a year after President Obama proposed eliminating the bank-based system of distributing federally subsidized student loans and giving the savings to education, Democrats are finally beginning to savor victory.

The Senate approved the student-loan bill, which was combined with Democrats' health-care overhaul, on Thursday afternoon by a vote of 56 to 43. Because the Senate made a couple of small changes in the version of the legislation approved by the House of Representatives last Sunday, the bill went back to the House for another vote. That came later Thursday, when lawmakers endorsed the final bill, 220 to 207. All that remains is for President Obama to sign it into law.

Yet for all the drawn-out battle over the landmark student-loan bill, the measure will result in limited gains, providing only a portion of the money the president had sought for some of his key higher-education goals. Pell Grants, the government's main aid program for financially needy students, got billions of dollars less than expected. Community colleges, seen by the president as key to his hopes for a broad expansion of college attendance and graduation rates, also got a fraction of the intended amount. Other programs fared even worse in the final legislative compromise.

Nonetheless, administration officials say, the crucial fact is that, at a time of severe economic stress, college has become more affordable for millions of students.

"This is a great step forward for us," said Martha J. Kanter, under secretary of education, "even though it's not everything we want."

The bill ends a decades-long debate over the best method for the government to deliver its low-interest student loans, terminating a complicated system of subsidizing private loan companies in favor of the Education Department's method of distributing the money directly to colleges and students.

Savings from the switch were originally estimated at $87-billion over 10 years. The bill, in the version that first passed the House of Representatives last September, would have given most of that money to education programs, primarily the Pell Grant, but also historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions, community colleges, and a grant program to help states and institutions improve college-completion rates.

In the end, the compromise legislation provided less than half that much money, about $43-billion, for spending on education programs. Most of it, $36-billion, is going to bolster the Pell Grant, and the largest additional chunk, about $2.5-billion, has been allocated to minority-serving institutions.

Future of Pell

Even though the Pell Grant program is the overwhelming beneficiary of the student-loan bill, it remains unclear just how far the budget increases will go toward achieving the broad goal of expanding access to college.

The need for the aid is growing rapidly, as more students enroll in college and more people become eligible for the grants in a struggling economy. In the 2008-9 academic year, the government spent $18.3-billion delivering Pell Grants to about 6.2 million students. By the 2010-11 academic year, it expects to spend nearly twice that much, $32-billion, on 8.4 million students.

At the same time, more than a third of the Pell Grant money in the bill will be used to cover past shortfalls in appropriations for the program, rather than to pay for future increases.

As a result, the maximum Pell Grant award, set at $5,550 for 2010-11, will remain at that level for the following two years. It will then increase by the rate of inflation in each of the next five years. Mr. Obama had asked for 10 years of annual increases at a rate of inflation plus one percentage point, which would have brought the maximum value to an estimated $6,900 by 2019-20, or about $1,000 more than the final version of the bill will now provide.

"The president's initiative has moved from a vast expansion to an effort to maintain and sustain the Pell program," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.

That change in scope leaves very much in doubt the ability of the nation to meet the president's goal for the United States to be atop the world by 2020 in measures of college completion, Mr. Hartle said. The funds that the bill provides for higher education will mostly be enough only to help compensate for cuts to colleges and student aid on the state level, rather than to finance any broad expansion of college enrollment.

Even so, colleges and students cheered the increases the bill does contain for the Pell Grant and the effort to make sure the maximum Pell award at least tries to keep pace with inflation.

"These types of programs are the reasons why I'm in school," Kortney McBride, a junior at the University of California at Berkeley, said this week at a Capitol Hill rally to press Congress to approve the student-loan bill.

Alongside her, Tommy Le said he would graduate from the University of California at Santa Cruz this year with $32,000 in student-loan debt, even with all the Pell Grants he has received. As his tuition has increased, he said, he has had trouble making ends meet and has even been receiving food stamps since January.

World-Leadership Goal

Beneficiaries and programs other than the Pell Grant suffered even deeper cuts in the final version of the bill, with Congress excluding billions of dollars the president had sought for community colleges and for his ambitious college-completion goal.

Mr. Obama propelled community colleges into the limelight last July when he went to Macomb Community College, near Detroit, to outline a plan to spend $12-billion over 10 years to rebuild and expand two-year institutions. The president said he wanted community colleges to increase by 50 percent their current annual output of about one million graduates, both to help more workers get vital job skills and to create a more-robust student pipeline into four-year colleges.

Mr. Obama's plan included $9-billion in grants to encourage job-specific training programs, $2.5-billion for facility improvements, and $500-million to help develop online curricula.

The effort is central to the administration's goal of making the United States the world's leader by 2020 in the proportion of its residents with college degrees. About 39 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States have associate degrees or higher, putting the nation 10th among 30 countries ranked, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In the top-ranking country, Canada, 55 percent of people in that age group hold associate degrees or higher.

But rather than the $12-billion suggested by Mr. Obama, the original House bill had $10-billion for community colleges, and the final legislation had only $2-billion.

The president of Macomb Community College, James Jacobs, is among the many two-year-college leaders lamenting the lost opportunity. "A lot of us were very enthusiastic" about Mr. Obama's proposal for community colleges, said Mr. Jacobs, who had stood alongside the president at last summer's announcement. Mr. Jacobs had talked of using the proposed federal infusion of money to develop new programs in hybrid technology for cars and other "green technology" jobs.

He said this week that he was appreciative of the money that is in the bill, but that "while it's a victory, it's not all that could have been won."

Ms. Kanter, who served as chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, in California, before joining the Obama administration, shares the regret. With limited resources, the decision by Congress to favor the Pell Grant program makes sense, she said, because helping more students, even less-than-optimally financed ones, to be able to enroll in college, is at least preferable to their being shut out of higher education entirely.

Still, she acknowledged, the failure by Congress to finance the president's vision for community colleges through the student-loan bill hurts at a time when cash-strapped states are reducing their support for public education. The $2-billion for community colleges does not include money the president proposed for facility improvements and online curricula. Instead, all of the money will go to help the colleges with general efforts to produce more job-ready graduates.

Examples of the need in that area include the many community-college nursing programs that lack the "high-end simulation labs" in use at many four-year universities, Ms. Kanter said. Even with just $2-billion to spend on such projects, "we can do a tremendous amount of things for students in this country," she said.

Beyond the scaled-back funds for community colleges, the Obama administration's efforts to put money behind its 2020 benchmark also took a hit in other parts of the final bill. The legislation includes only $750-million for grants to improve college access and completion, down from $3-billion in the original House version.

Loan-Industry Lobbying

The sense of lost opportunity for higher education is magnified by the fact that the value of the student-loan bill might not have been scaled back if Congress had acted more quickly. In fact, the Obama administration itself contributed to lowering the projected savings of ending the bank-based loan program by encouraging colleges to voluntarily shift into the Education Department's direct-lending system ahead of the final vote. As colleges made the change on their own, Congressional budget rules reduced the amount of money that could be credited to a bill mandating the switch.

President Obama did win his politically difficult battle with banks, largely cutting them out of the federal student-loan system, but the tough fight added to the delays that led to the lower levels of spending for education.

Student-loan companies spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress and contributing to lawmakers' campaigns. The bank-based system, they argued, produced better service and benefits for colleges and borrowers than the direct-loan system could. And concerns about job losses, raised at high-profile rallies organized by lenders in a number of Democrats' home states, tempered support for the bill.

Amid such arguments over jobs and budget priorities, research makes clear the benefits of spending more federal money on education, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid, a Web site that provides student-aid advice. He has proposed that Congress add significantly more money to the Pell Grant than it did in the student-loan bill. Doubling the value of the Pell Grant, as he suggests, would produce an average 14-percent return on investment when considering future income-tax revenue.

It's "a wise investment for the federal government," Mr. Kantrowitz said.

But that discussion may not be revisited anytime soon. The student-loan bill was seen as the main vehicle for the president to advance his higher-education agenda and may have been the last big chance for colleges and students to win any major increases in federal money for some time. The Obama administration has already set off on its next big education battle, and that fight is focused on elementary and secondary education and an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind law.

Andrea Fuller contributed to this article.


1. rickinchina09 - March 26, 2010 at 06:12 am

When did earning a college degree become an entitlement? I earned my way through college, working 20 hours per week during the academic year and full-time in the summer. I supplemented my earnings with department scholarships and occasionally took out small loans. Many of my classmates signed on for the absolute limit of what they could borrow year after year, with a nary a worry about the financial consequences. I lived within my means, took on work-study where offered and relevant to my major. I didn't expect my parents, who were lower middle class, to pay a cent. I took a semester off to earn more money and during that semester bought and read through required readings I knew I would have when I returned. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I set my sights high but not unrealistically high, attending a first tier state university which was financially within my reach. I expected nothing, especially as a White male ignored in the rush to diversity through overblown affirmative action. But harbor little resentment and I'm glad I had enough common sense to do what I did. I completed a dual major: one practical; the other esoteric but nonetheless enriching. Both in their own way have served me well. It was good enough for me and some of my public high school classmates.

2. 11132507 - March 26, 2010 at 08:23 am

Wow rickinchina09, thanks for sharing your story, when you're done patting yourself on the back we can all add our congratulations. Especially being that you're a white male, you certainly had the deck stacked against you.

In this country, with more riches, knowhow and entrepreneurial spirit than any other (or so we're often told), it seems to me that students with different goals should be given the chance to achieve them. I'm glad your choices worked for you; different choices may work for different people, and they are entitled to pursue them, no matter how much you may loathe that word.

3. nuffsed - March 26, 2010 at 09:08 am

11132507, as another "white male" whose own story is quite similar to rickinchina09's I take exception to your snide comments. Maybe we don't have the deck stacked against us, but it isn't dealt in our favor simply from being white and male.

I grew up poor and my parents used what little they could scrape up to help my sister go to college. So other than housing (I chose to go to college in my home town), I was on my own. My first year of college was paid with Pell, a very small scholarship reserved for graduates of my high school, and work-study.

The second year? Zippo, unless I wanted loans, which I did not. Debt is stupid and crippling and I won't do that. I searched far and wide for scholarships, but over and over everything I saw was for women and minorities. So I worked very hard at multiple part time jobs to get through six years of college and four years of graduate school. (It takes a little longer when you work every night and weekend instead of getting wasted at frat parties three times a week.)

How is killing the student loan industry going to make ANYTHING better?

And you talk about entrepreneurial spirit? How is entrepreneurship supposed to thrive in a country where the government keeps taking over private industries like banking, finance, and health care?

With the stroke of a pen they just destroyed more jobs. I think loans are stupid, but at least the private lenders had to employ people to make and manage these loans. You might argue that those losses will be offset by the jobs in the new government program, but that is just another drain on our tax dollars - money we already don't have. So all of those jobs go from being net producers (paying INTO the tax coffers) to net takers (draining FROM the tax coffers). The diminishing private sector cannot sustain all of this government growth.

This is supposed to be better for students and colleges? Name ONE government program that runs efficiently. There isn't one. In the past they have done the military well, but not efficiently. And now the bureaucrats have meddled in military matters so much the the military does not even function well anymore.

4. cbr79 - March 26, 2010 at 09:14 am

To get $83 billion in savings, rather than the final $68, all the Democrats had to do was accept the alternative community proposal a month or two ago. Why did they refuse to accept 95% of what they wanted?

First, they were enjoying themselves too much demonizing lenders and stoking the anger and vitriol of the haters on the left. The political benefits must have been pretty good, considering all the grief Obama was getting from the left for going easy on the real villains, the Wall Street financiers.

Second, they wouldn't stop until they got the private sector out. Not only had they become so invested politically in ridding the program of for-profit firms, they wanted to take over the program so they could turn it into a grant program.

That was a major cause of the delay.

5. richardgabriel - March 26, 2010 at 10:03 am

How soon we forget... “A group of lenders devised a strategy to aggressively grow the volume of loans that they claimed were eligible for the inflated 9.5% payments. They did so by transferring loans that qualified for the 9.5 subsidy payment to other financing vehicles and recycling the proceeds into new loans that they claimed were then eligible for the subsidy. A particularly egregious actor was Nelnet, which was created in 1998 when Nebraska's nonprofit student loan agency converted to for-profit status. By repeating the transfer and recycling process over and over, Nelnet increased the amount of loans for which it sought the 9.5 percent rate from about $550 million in 2003 to nearly $4 billion in 2004. All told, according to a report last week from The Chronicle of Higher Education, the government appears to have lost nearly $1.2 billion in overpayments to lenders over a six-year period.”

I miss those days of private industry efficiency already!

6. mjg6601 - March 26, 2010 at 10:10 am

The easy money will continue to drive up tuition. The end of easy stimulus money going to the states will also result in states having to raise public institution tuitions. Students will take the easy loan money thinking it's a government give-away and hoping, once underwater, for a financial amnesty. (Want to take odds on Congress giving it to them, or at least to some of them, at some point?)

My student loans are serviced via a private company, and these private companies employ people. Now the federal government is going to service loans, and they are going to need, I guess, to hire people to do this. So where exactly are the savings from "efficiencies" going to come from? Will unicorns process the loans? Or, more improbable, the bureaucracy be more efficient than the banks, profit or no profit?

Consider, by the way, that one-third of all the federal government's budget this year is deficit spending ($2.381T revenue, $3.552T expenditures, as submitted Feb. 2009). Let's assume that one-third of all student loans and grants share this ration of deficit spending. Then all of the federal student loan money is twice-subsidized: once from taxpayers in current yearly revenue, once from future taxpayers in financing the year's deficit spending, ad infinitum. The student's repayment of the loan does not represent the real cost of the loan to current and future taxpayers.

I see that the new health insurance legislation provides for 16,000 new IRS agents. Hmmm. I need to take out loans this year, but I'm going for a private second mortgage this time around. It's tax deductible and between me and the bank. If I get into a fight with the IRS, I can't win. The bank I can talk to. As far as having to subsidize the current loan legislation now and in the future . . . I'm in the five-figure salary range, and I have no choice but to subsidize the subsidizing.

Thanks Barack.

Really, Chronicle reporting, do some explaining rather than air-brushing.

7. mssmiley - March 26, 2010 at 10:20 am

#1 it s very unfortunate that your very good story was weakened by your racist remark. Education is an entitlement for the betterment of a demoncratic society; it is at the core of equal access in every facet of our existance. This nation has a moral obligation to provide equal affordable educaion. Sorry that being a "White Male" put you at a "disadvantage."

8. willynilly - March 26, 2010 at 10:23 am

A question for Mr Basken and others of his unappreciative ilk: The original bill called for $87B. The final approved amount was $43B. Question: Pretend you are taking an eye test. Which looks better to you Mr. Basken, $43B or Zero?? Why must educators consistently come across publicly as never being satisfied? My reaction to that approach, if I were a leglislater, would be, the hell with them. Whatever we do, they are always dissatisfied.

9. physicsprof - March 26, 2010 at 11:47 am

Gosh! #1 pointed out that as a white male he was "ignored in the rush to diversity" and called affirmative action "overblown" and #7 hurried to call it a "racist remark". Can't some Chronicle readers think outside of cliches worth of Hugo Chavez and discuss the issues with a modicum of intellectualism?

10. jaysanderson - March 26, 2010 at 11:51 am

Mssmiley, coloring every dissenting opinion as racist is beneath you. In fact, name-calling is beneath all of us in higher education. It has been said--wisely--that little minds talk about people and functioning minds discuss ideas.

Your apparent presumption that the writers above were white males, based on the fact that they worked through college and were proud of that fact is, indeed, racist. Do you propose that minorities do not work through college to pay expenses? Are you quite certain that no black or latino students have to work their way through college?

It seems perfectly logical that one might feel some pride in work well done and responsibility undertaken during college. I worked nights in the post office sorting mail to pay for college, and their were plenty of males, females and skin tones of all shades working alongside me--many of them there to pay for college, running on 2-3 hours of sleep, and learning lessons beyond the classroom. I suspect my coworkers from so many years ago look back on the experience with a bit of pride in the accomplishment, just as I do.

11. 3232gmt - March 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm

A couple comments after reading some of the post. Private lenders will be contracted by the feds to service student loans. My understanding is the loans will be equally divided for servicing. Jobs will be lost on the origination side for private lenders but jobs will be retained by the servicing side. I used to work for a private lender and the reality is there will be fewer resources offered to families on educating them about students loans. Part of the profit our company made was used to educate families on what kind of loan is best and how much to borrow to appropriately pay for college. We did everyting we could to teach families about other avenues to pay for college before taking out a student loan. Secondly, the gentlemen above who talked about working his way through school to stay out of debt. Good for you!! We need more families/students who have that kind of attitude. We are headed for an epidemic of student loan debt that will put most graduates in a huge hole before they ever earn one cent. Working in admissions and in the student loan industry I saw it all the time. More an more graduates leaving college with $20,000-$50,000 of debt. Great way to start after graduating from college.

12. mssmiley - March 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm

#10 the writer clearly stated that he was a White Male, so this was not an assumption on my part. I pointed out that the mere mention of his race marginalized his story; that statement was not necessary. I don't care about White Men complaining about Affirmative Action and other issues that they have never had to struggle for because they have always held the upper hand.

13. physicsprof - March 26, 2010 at 01:20 pm

"I don't care about White Men complaining about Affirmative Action."

I am sure you don't mind White Men's taxes funding affirmative action though. This is very generous of you and many white men should feel grateful that you don't burden them with the need for complaining about it in addition to paying for it. Certainly, you would make a great politician one day, someone who is not bothered with the old-fashioned concerns about taxation without representation.

14. 3232gmt - March 26, 2010 at 01:41 pm

Any chance we can discuss the issue at hand...student loans. I was hoping to have an intelligent exchange of information about this article. Anyone care to join me?

15. ciceronow - March 26, 2010 at 01:48 pm

I think we are missing the mark in the comments above, The limited pie gets groups fighting amongst themselves, e.g., lower SES Anglos and minorities. Let's look at Europe. The government taxes corporations and individuals at a reasonable rate and then subsidizes higher education for everyone who qualifies and needs it. Our higher educations system and government would do better if we followed the europeans on tax policy and higher eduducation finance.

So tired of the neocon and neoliberal drone. It is time for a social democratic revolution in America. I only wish the Obama legislation would have included my 60,000 student loan bill incurred in the post-Reagan human capital era when I couldn't pay the original 20,000 they just capitalized the interest until the total was 60,000 because no one was regulating them, meanwhile the rich were getting massive tax releif and other capital transfers and left graduate school with no loans. its been 15 years at 9%, how about just forgiving it so I can enjoy the wages of my low paying state university professorship?

America, love it or make it better... or America, love it by paying your fair share of corporate taxes, or leave it...yeah like where are these corporations going to go if we tax them appropriately?

Everyone who qualifies both on academic merit and need should get a free college education. Why is it only for the wealthy.

16. leilaniaguirre - March 26, 2010 at 01:58 pm

I am a Chicana professional, born and raised in a small border town, I was the first of my family to go to college, earn a B.A. and a Master's degree in education. It saddens me how many of you look back at your struggles but refuse to help out the next generation. I am sure that a student, like me who qualifies for Pell grants regardless of their ethnicity is in need for such money. 5,550 is nothing but a dent when paying for housing, tuition, books, food and transportation. I struggled myself working 30 hours a week my junior and senior year in high school, while applying for scholarships. In college I worked nights and weekends at Sears and then held student-worker positions until I graduated, when I was a graduate assistant. I guess it's a matter of values; I value higher education and will approve of any means possible for other students to be educated, because these students will go back to their communities and use their education for the betterment of their community and society at large...but maybe I'm just being optimistic.

17. 3232gmt - March 26, 2010 at 02:37 pm

#15 post-you make a good point about the Europeans and how they handle higher education. My question is, can the ego of the US be put to the side so we would consider how another country does it? Based on what we see in the US today it would be a stretch for us to say we are going to follow the example of another country. It's just not in our nature. Good point though.

18. mssmiley - March 26, 2010 at 03:13 pm

#13 you sound like an "Angry White Man" so I am not even going to engage you, We need to concentrate on affordable education. that was the intent of the article.

19. parsleylover - March 26, 2010 at 07:14 pm

the measure will result in limited gains? billions of dollars less than anticipated? And this is a surprise?? Just like the health care bill, no one really knows the impact of these complex, give-away legislations. and I am convinced that the politicians who continue to profit financially and in their political aspirations by the decisions they make, really care. As long as we continue to make gratification of the wants of all - - Americans and illegal immigrants alike (and sadly no less, in the name of humanitarianism and morality)with no regard for the country's ability to afford it, then we feel no guilt for having a slight bit more than the guy next door. Is it not clear as a bell what the political machinery(both mainstream parties!) and the media are doing to this country? Has anyone seen the latest reports of who in this country is bringing home the biggest bacon? Government workers! So they and their politician friends (who do not have to live by the laws they make, and whose pensions are breaking state governments) are building empires on the backs of the poor. A massive overhaul of government is needed so that we can provide a high quality educational system, accessible to all, and manage what should be the minimal work of government. But instead we have a system fueled by politicians' (and voters') guilt over any small success they achieve that places us one step ahead of someone else. Those we are professing to help are being hurt the most.

20. jaysanderson - March 26, 2010 at 11:05 pm

The revolution comes this November, and this mockery of the Constitution will be neutralized by the power of the vote. Now that's democracy in action.

21. socialnature - March 26, 2010 at 11:13 pm

In 1960 the California Master Plan for Higher Education called for tuition-free higher education for all Californians.

Political and educational leaders of that long-gone era thought, rightly, that higher education ought not to be solely a commodity accessible only to the wealthy, so they created what became the finest and most innovative system of interlinked public institutions of higher education in the world: the community colleges, the state colleges, and the world-class University of California system.

If people of earlier eras were able to put themselves through school it was largely because costs were kept low through state support. I was one such person who worked and studied, but I could only do so because the costs of my education were a fraction of what UC charges today.

Since I graduated, the states have largely withdrawn such support, essentially privatizing once proud public institutions. A high-fee, high-aid model is inherently exclusionary and represents a dramatic setback for students, for innovation, and for the economic, social, and culture future.

I look at the comment thread and wonder what is it that an earlier generation knew that people today have forgotten?

Is it the moral responsibility we owe to the young? Is it confidence in public institutions? Is it the fact that education drives economic productivity and increases broad-based prosperity?

Has the nation's moral intelligence been fatally compromised by free-market fundamentalism and a knee-jerk distrust of government?

The student loan legislation is a small, flawed start, but the next necessary steps are to abandon the steady privatization of public universities, abandon the exclusionary high-fee, high-aid model, and return public higher education back to the public.

22. arrive2__net - March 27, 2010 at 04:27 am

The article says that "Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid ...has proposed that Congress add significantly more money to the Pell Grant ... Doubling the value of the Pell Grant ... would produce an average 14-percent return on investment when considering future income-tax revenue" If Kantrowitz is right, increasing the Pell Grant program is a win-win situation for the country, since the students win by making more money, and the people win when the money is paid back in. How many government programs are there that pay for themselves in the long run, and enrich the people at the same time. This is why the GI Bill made the country richer. I would like to see the Chronicle further analyze the Kantrowitz research. I also had to work during high school and college to earn much of my way through college, though I also had to get student loans to get through. I don't regret it at all, obviously, it was one of the great things I did. God bless the students.

Bernard Schuster

23. jak123 - March 27, 2010 at 11:49 am

One thing I'd like more information on is the expected impact of the bill on grad students. I just established an account for your online edition and maybe you've addressed the graduate student impact issue in previous stories. If so, could you give me any guidance? John Kirsch

24. rickinchina09 - March 28, 2010 at 01:48 am

First, I would like to thank those who came to my defense, and in a reasonable manner.

As for the naysayers, let me address them one by one:

11132507 retorted:

"when you're done patting yourself on the back we can all add our congratulations."

I wasn't intent on self-congratulatory remarks but stating my concern openly. Would you make such a sophomoric response were I of a different race or gender?

"no matter how much you may loathe that word."

I'm not opposed to choices, as long as they pose viable options and are genuinely fair-minded. What you euphemistically refer to as "choices" are nothing more than entitlements regardless of how you try to obfuscate the issue.

mssmiley retorted:

"#10 the writer clearly stated that he was a White Male, so this was not an assumption on my part. I pointed out that the mere mention of his race marginalized his story; that statement was not necessary. I don't care about White Men complaining about Affirmative Action and other issues that they have never had to struggle for because they have always held the upper hand."

Yes, this writer clearly and intentionally stated that he is a White male. So what of it? I made the disclosure merely in the interest of providing personal context. Your decision to read something more into it says more about you than me. In my lifetime I have never once felt I held "the upper hand," as you assume, but I've often felt that the burden of history imposed by people of your ilk has given me the back of the hand.

leilaniaguire replied:

"I am a Chicana professional, born and raised in a small border town, I was the first of my family to go to college, earn a B.A. and a Master's degree in education. It saddens me how many of you look back at your struggles but refuse to help out the next generation."

Identifying yourself as Chicana is a poltical statement in itself, as opposed to saying Latina or Hispanic or Mexican American. So I'm bit leery about being drawn into a conversation with you. Suffice it to say that I was raised on the now apparently antiquated notion that what is good for the goose ought to be good enough for the gander. I don't refuse to help out the next generation, as I was helped in part by work-study (albeit doing a real job), but I am most reluctant to pay part of the freight without my consent. Earning a college degree should be a privilege, not a right, and should therefore come with some sacrifices. Far from being heartless, I want today's youth to feel that they've accomplished something on their own as much as possible. Is that also an outmoded attitude? It served me and countless other underprivileged students in good stead, and even compelled us to budget our time more wisely.

Let me clarify something else: I have no qualms about taking the banks out of the loop. But at the same time I can't help but wonder how putting the government in the role of lender is going to diminish the trend toward overborrowing, much less the attitude of entitlement.

25. futureprofessor - March 28, 2010 at 05:14 am

Let's be real here. The Student Loan bill, while definitely a step in the right direction, was staggered by private interests. Come on, an extra $600 dollars for Pell grants is hardly relief. The Pell grant has always been grossly underfunded, it barely increased for 10 years while inflation of 7 percent per year continued! And it doesn't cover rent unless you have 10 roommates. I remember seeing how paltry the Pell grant award was on my financial aid when I was an undergrad, it was like a slap in the face. I didn't want to take out loans but I had to to pay rent. I was like, "this is all the government does to help a hard-working poor first-generation minority honor student?"

On a similar note, the living wage has not kept pace with cost-of-living and inflation either, so as for the working one's way through school, let's provide a living wage, federally-subsidized while we're at it. That would provide some relief. 10 bucks an hour would be reasonable, but 15/hr would actually be more appropriate and humane. Otherwise you are just enslaving people, especially when housing is so expensive.

Tax the super-rich to pay merit-based public education. Just like Europe. Yeah, let's look at Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia. Other systems might work better. It's quite possible. Who knows? Innovations might just come from modeling programs after those that work well.

Pell grant barely covers Tuition and Books for most people. Banks know this. Lenders know this. Universities (corporations) know this. That's where the problem is. Student loans were the best way to cover expenses at my R1 Public University. The shortfall was built into the system, and us poor suckers that took on public and private student loans were slotted to pay the difference for years.

There are simply not enough programs to help low-income smart people attend college. Perkins, Stafford, Pell have all benefited the private lending sector while tuitions went through the roof. Those of us with huge student loans lost. These programs funneled indentured servants into bank debts, those of us baited by the American dream of a college education.

The top 3 percent of wealthy people own around 50 percent of all wealth. A 1% tax would probably cover all of this. Or we could forever hope for more philanthropy or a more efficient federal aid system.

Okay, Health Care has been made more humane through government regulation. Now let's fix Housing and Education: If these two things were made affordable, then we could call America a truly progressive Nation. Then we might have something to brag about.

26. jungianscholar - March 28, 2010 at 09:58 am

Three of you who have made comments so far understand the real root cause issue that is behind the entire American approach to higher education. You three have all identified the biggest impediment to higher education accessibility to many.

Ciceronow, SocialNature, and FutureProfessor have all identified the extraordinarily high costs of higher education in the U.S.; especially when compared to Europe, Asia, and South America!

Immediately following WWII, the G.I. Bill of Rights provided unheralded educational opportunities, and rightfully so, for those who fought against enslavement, genocide, and, insanity. Hundreds of thousands of men and women who went through the Post WWII American higher education system went on to become scientists, engineers, administrators, and social scientists, thanks to the government program that subsidized their educational costs. Our nation became stronger, and we became the leading edge of world success due to this!

In the 1960's, California (usually the Avatars of change) boldly developed an education system based on accessibility for just about all! The last year the American economy blossomed considering true income vs. inflation was 1969.

Today the issue once again, is "Why do we put up with, and how can we drastically reduce higher education costs in the U.S.? Has our collective shadow become so insular that we no longer seek a common good for all?


27. allenjones - March 28, 2010 at 03:19 pm

We, as a nation, do not have the luxury of near racial. religious, or cultural homogeneity. We are not Sweden or Finland or Germany. Our national populace is more diverse across the board than any nation in the world. It is all at once our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. We are nation founded on colonialism, genocide, slavery, and extreme class division. I invite any to read history on the Founders. Therefore, to what extent will this nation with its brutal realities begin to realize once again there is none other like it in the world? Wealthy European, African, Asian, Latin, and yes, even Native Americans to a great extent care about maintaining their wealth! The rest of us just wish we could build a better mouse trap.

We must begin to look forward as a nation. Would you really rather live in Nicaragua with an average per capita income of $326 or the United States with an average per capita income of $33,000? Would you rather be a practicing Buddhist in China or America? Would you rather have bathing, drinking, and cooking water, despite its source, or live in the Sudan or Chad?

We must decide if all of America or some of America should move into a brighter tomorrow! The Japanese have the bullet train, the Europeans the TGV, we are having a difficult time keeping Amtrak open! What are our priorities?

My 30 Somali Shilling...

28. aaroncj - March 29, 2010 at 07:00 am

A few of you have commented on the success of the GI Bill, especially following WWII, as a reason why our nation would benefit from a large-scale federal investment in education funding for individuals. I agree. Yet, I also think such a program should be tied to some form of service, just as the GI Bill has been.

Let's not forget that one of the prime motivations behind the original GI Bill of Rights was absorption of millions of potential new workers into an economy transforming back to peacetime production. Why not require two or three years of community or military service for individuals to gain eligibility for an enriched Pell Grant program?

I also think our debate about access to higher education needs to be defined. What is our goal for providing/ensuring affordability? Does the government have an obligation to ensure all individuals have financial access to any institution they're qualified to attend, including elite but expensive private institutions? Or, should we refocus our efforts on making our public colleges and universities as affordable as possible?

29. futureprofessor - March 29, 2010 at 10:07 am

These issues have a complexity that a policy wonk should relish. I can only hope that think tanks in Washington would listen. I agree with Ciceronow, SocialNature and JungianScholar.

As of now, a Student Loan Bill per se (such as loan forgiveness, or re-instating bankruptcy protections) does not exist. It exists only as an well-meaning addendum that rode in on the coattails of the Health Care Bill. NelNet and SallieMae masqueraded as government sheeps in corporate clothing for too long. It was a privatized cakefest for them for too long, capitalizing on defaults and deceptive obfuscations that seemed built into the system. As part of the new IBR (Income Based Repayment) Program--after 10 years of public service, one's loans are forgiven. That is one of the few incentives that exist.

I'm don't know much about the GI Bill, except that if it produces more historians like Howard Zinn, may he rest in peace, I'm all for it. (My father served in Vietnam and my cousin is a Marine.) Also, I attended grad school alongside Coast Guard officers and Army captains, who seemed to enjoy the free tuition at a Research I Public University. Godspeed to them! A famous quote (founding father?) says one of the main functions of government is to provide Military protection to its citizens, (hard to argue about that in this global political climate.)

However, Education does wonders for diplomacy and mutual cultural understanding, reduces xenophobia and produces a more open and cosmopolite society. So if that is at the root, why not redirect a fair chunk of Military funding into Education. Yes, we need both, but the budget is disproportionately skewed to one priority now. And I think this sends a message to foreign countries that we'd rather fight, make war, and muscle our way abroad than take care of basic domestic humanitarian issues like Housing and Education. Maybe I'm naive or idealistic, then again I've never been overseas in a civilian or military context.

I also know that the Community College system has done wonders for University access. Via the Associate of Arts University Transfer program, CC's have given a more affordable way to a Four-year degree. This is one of the few pathways for disadvantaged/underrepresented and socio-economically challenged groups. And many still do not know that Associate's transfers exist!

I would like to see a massive overhaul that would change America's image to something more European, but I don't see that happening without the political will to do so. But sometimes change is good and the status quo needs an overhaul.

Some possible solutions: green sector incentives, jobs and free college to Enviro-friendly engineers for systems such as wind, solar, hydro, to wean us off the dirty coal and oil. We need more visionary architects and engineers. This will provide jobs, and shift focus from overseas resources and redirect our priorities to domestic innovations. Look at Brazil's biofuel, Spain's solar, and Germany's wind for ideas. Then ad hoc to meet America's energy needs. Also, rail travel doesn't get the attention it deserves. (Amtrak had more riders last year than ever.) Our transportation and energy sector needs alternatives to long-haul gas-guzzling commutes and jet-fuel dependence.

The solutions are there, they just need to be re-tooled, re-fashioned, re-designed or retrofitted. Think of all the retro-fitting jobs that would create, and our newly trained engineers could be the architects of this (see it all comes back to Education!) Laying fiber optic lines for the Broadband initiative is part of this. And black-out proofing the electrical grid and improving and securing the Internet's DNS system needs attention. Solar and wind are just the start! Yes I know there are people working on this.

Come on, America! We can do it!

30. sdauskurdas - March 30, 2010 at 10:15 am

Read this part again..."Tommy Le said he would graduate from the University of California at Santa Cruz this year with $32,000 in student-loan debt, even with all the Pell Grants he has received. As his tuition has increased, he said, he has had trouble making ends meet and has even been receiving food stamps since January."

This is EXACTLY the problem. Adding more Pell Grant dollars and more tuition assistance just allows the colleges to keep hiking rates into oblivion. No need to tighten the belt on campus if Uncle Sam keeps funding the gluttony.2.5 new college staff members for every new collage student over the last ten years...does ANY company add 2 more employees for every customer? It's obscene.

Give money to the public schools only if they agree to low rates and employment guidelines. Don't give Pell money to students who attend private school if a public school option is available, and don't award Pell Grants to students in any program of study. Save it for those students who are needy AND pursuing degrees in areas the country desperately needs.

31. yimpy - March 31, 2010 at 08:34 pm

Regarding those comments bemoaning the entry of the governement into direct student loans, it's my humble opion that folks who decry the loss of private leneders in the mix haven't been doing their homework. As richardgabriel points out above, the private lenders have been pulling their chicanery for decades, and with a REAL audit's results, I have a feeeling the overpayment figures would be far higher than the "measly" $1.2 billion already uncovered. Add to this travesty the outrageous bailout sums that history now shows us the banks didn't really need. The bank bailouts were at least half a scam! Advance kudos to the economists (and their grad students) who document that travesty in the future, and don't worry, they will.
So if we are faced with megacorp megagreed vs. government beauraocracy inefficiencies that we've all seen before, I suggest it's time to give the government another shot at doing it right this time. Who knows, they might just get it right, and if not, well, you know the banks will jump at the chance to take it over again.
My scrutiny of documented WASTEFUL spending, i.e., ONLY the amounts proven as wasteful, in other budget areas like Defense indicates there is plenty of funding for Education if we could only stop the spending cheaters. I wonder how Congress would vote on on a bill to revamp the watchdog agencies across the board?!

32. yimpy - March 31, 2010 at 08:40 pm

Regarding sdauskurdas's statement above: "if Uncle Sam keeps funding the gluttony.2.5 new college staff members for every new collage student over the last ten years...does ANY company add 2 more employees for every customer? It's obscene." Geez, those are incredible stats. That means my school, with approxiamtely 10,000 students, employs about 25,000 staff members. Hogwash!
Can you please indicate your source on that ratio so I may stand corrected?

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