Affordable Education: To Be or Not to Be

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Source: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As a teacher, I felt impressed to write my first “log” about ways to improve education and the undergraduate experience for future generations. That said, my first “Lesson on the Journey” will be on better financing for higher education.

Currently, under the previous Obama Administration, one of the government’s missions was (and hopefully, still is) to improve the education of our youth in the United States—that goal is clearly stated through the policy, “No Child Left Behind.” Still, more college graduates are needed every year in the United States; however, due to the burden of student loan debt, data shows that potential students are less optimistic about attaining a degree. Having experienced what I have and having met many other American students who desire to pursue higher levels of education but struggle for financial reasons, I found myself wishing that someone would stand up and address these grievances and offer a more efficient means of attaining an education more affordably. It was never my intention to become that person, but I would be remiss to turn my head away from a problem that I know is very real and prevalent today without trying to do something myself. That being said, I have researched the financial side of other countries’ education systems in greater depth in order to find additional ways to finance America’s education system. In short, I propose a restructuring of the education budget and forgiving student loan debt, while providing a contingency plan for members (especially businesses) negatively affected by such a proposal.

Background

As it stands, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that student loan debt is the second-highest form of consumer debt in the U.S. The bureau also noted that by the end of 2011, the total outstanding student loans reached as high as 1 trillion dollars, and by May 2013, the debt had grown 20 percent. Despite the growing costs of education, the need for graduates has not cooled at all. According to Kaplan University, America will need 4 million college graduates or more by 2020. Unlike the high costs of education in America, other countries, particularly in Europe, successfully provide tuition-free schools as well as universities with significantly reduced fees. To remove the financial burden in the U.S., it is necessary to restructure the education budget to cover the cost for students in public universities—additionally, doing so may cause private colleges and universities to reduce their fees. In order to realize more affordable education, addressing the education budget is simply necessary. It should also be noted that the new cost of such a budget is actually less than the current amount the government spends on education. As for students who have graduated, to better assist them, it would be advised to forgive a portion, if not all, of their student loan debt.

Required Changes to the System

To effectively accommodate the $62.6 billion public universities collected for tuition in 2012 reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, the government will have to spend that amount, in addition to the subsidies it gives to public universities and colleges, for the education budget (this amount may not reflect the tuition collected from public universities in 2014). In 2013, according to the New America Foundation, the government paid over twice this amount—spending $107.4 billion for student loans and over $69 billion to subsidize higher education. If the government does not wish to fully cover the cost of tuition, then allowing students to pay a specific amount based on their family’s income would also be a viable option. This alternative would still require the government to increase spending to cover the rest of the students’ fees. The scope of such a policy would be nationwide, affecting all public universities, and indirectly affecting private universities as well.

The advantages of enacting the suggested changes include, but are not limited to, granting more students access to affordable higher education, developing greater opportunities for students to graduate in better financial standing, encouraging more international students to study in America (promoting greater inter-culture communication), and lowering the overall cost of America’s higher education when compared to other countries. Again, the main problem most university and college students face is the amount of student loan debt they will acquire throughout their education. By removing this factor, students will have access to quality education without the significant debt that is usually associated with America’s education. As previously stated, the government will have to adjust the education budget to accommodate the tuition collected from public universities if tuition-free universities are to be realized in the United States.

These suggestions that emulate the strengths of Europe’s education systems—where a majority of universities do not require their students to cover the tuition fees (or only require them to pay a small portion)—releases students from the burdens of student loan debt, leaving their only responsibility to cover their daily living expenses. Doing so would fall in line with the government’s vision and current policies, especially when viewing the “No Child Left Behind” law and Obama’s initiative, “Free Community College.”

Impact on Organizations Affected Undesirably

I am not so naïve to suggest that simply forgiving all student debts and forgoing loans in the future would not have an impact on the various agencies providing student and parent loans, and so. For that reason, I have incorporated a contingency plan for such organizations to ensure they do not face a devastating loss should the government pass a proposal that incorporates these suggestions. For the affected companies that deal heavily in loaning financial aid to students, to counteract undesired effects, these are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Have the loaning companies transition from being organizations that maintain loaner-loanee relationships to ones that award grants (this change would release the companies from the duty of having to ensure the recipients of the loans pay them back) to the schools to use where needed.
  2. Another option would be for the loaning companies to give loans to schools instead of students (since the students’ fees would either be covered under the new changes to the education system, or significantly reduced based on the families’ income). This option is not for the school to then turn around and give its students loans, but to invest the money or use it to make improvements to itself and pay its staff.

*Should the government choose the second option, a question that might arise could be, “Where would the schools get the money to pay back the loans?” In response to this, two answers are:

  • One, though risky, schools could turn a profit by using loans as assets and investing them (i.e. stocks or CDs…)
  • And two, through alumni donations (alumni are expected to give money donations regardless, and should these suggestions be implemented, future alumni would be in a better financial position to contribute more as a result of ridding the system of student loans and debt)

To garner the full cooperation of companies that could be undesirably affected, the government might consider consulting with some of the more commonly used companies for student loans.

To a Burden-Free Education

We speak about how great America is, and how with each generation we become stronger and more intelligent, but when the financial burden of college has kept many Americans from growing and realizing their potential, can we really say that we are as positive an example for the rest of the world as we claim to be? Improving our education system by emulating different aspects of those from around the world can be the key to giving America’s students a real opportunity to pursue higher education without fear of being crushed by seemingly never-ending student loans. After all, why do we charge such a high price for education? Doing so almost seems like a form of punishment. We want our children to achieve the highest level of education in order to attain a job—especially since many companies look down on students if they do not—but then we cripple them with insurmountable loans and debt. I look around at today’s students and my fellow graduates, and I can understand their pessimism—doubting whether we are truly valued as America’s children. Having already completed my undergraduate studies, I know the value of education is priceless, and it is my hope that no student will be deprived of such an experience. Creating a system that does not shy away from students who put forth the effort to improve themselves is the next step for America. I simply hope that the financial burden of college will not continue to be the reason why our children do not go onto (or are left behind from) college and university.

Financing America’s Current Education System

What do you think? Should the government be responsible for financing college?

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