Cast Away - Tales of the Young, Educated, and Unemployed

This is my first attempt at a diary here, and I want to dedicate it to a topic that is both deeply personal and painful: unemployment. It has been a long seven-day wait for posting privileges so I can finally put my feelings into writing. My wait on unemployment, now at eight months, has regrettably been far longer.

I realize that writing about my own employment situation carries a sense of narcissism. After all, 15% of all Daily Kos respondents recently indicated that they too are unemployed, which closely matches the national true (U-6) unemployment rate of 17%. I know far too many of you are in the same boat, so please forgive me when I feel compelled to share personal details.

It is my thesis, however, that elements from my own unemployment experience are germane to the larger unemployment crisis in this country, and that the national dialogue on many critical elements of the crisis remains woefully insufficient, despite the election of President Obama to the White House.

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One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Education

Forty years ago, one man took a small step that inspired a country. The Apollo 11 mission to the moon was a great moment for America as viewers across the nation, in unison, watched one of our own step foot on an otherworldly body for the first time. America's potential was limitless.

I still remember the journey of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. I had just returned from my own life-changing adventure: a two-year stint serving Ethiopia in the Peace Corps. I served in a country that could not afford to feed its population, let alone educate them, and this loss of human potential still slows progress there today. A quality education is important not just for the betterment of individuals but also for society as a whole. In my decades of public service, I have worked tirelessly to ensure that we provide our children with the highest quality education, because I know that our economic growth depends on their intellectual growth.

The success of Apollo 11 would never have happened without the work of America's best and brightest scientists. They were the product of our country's commitment to STEM - science, technology, engineering, and math education. America led the globe in science education, but due to funding cuts and increased international competition, we're falling behind the curve.

More over the flip...

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Tell Ben Nelson and the Democrats Hands Off Student Aid (Updated)

Update:

Here's the list of swing votes who might side with Nelson and the corporate lenders over debt-ridden students:

Alexander (R - TN) Bayh (D - IN) Carper (D - DE) Coleman (R - MN) Collins (R - ME) Hatch (R - UT) Landrieu (D - LA) McCaskill (D - MO) Murkowski (R - AK) Nelson, Ben (D - NE) Nelson, Bill (D - FL) Roberts (R - KS) Tester (D - MT) Webb (D - VA)

Call their offices and urge them to vote YES on S. 1762, and NO on the Nelson-Burr Amendment. The Capitol Switchboard can be reached at (202) 224-3121.

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Last week, most student organizations rejoiced as the Democrats shepherded the Cost of College Reduction Act through the House of Representatives.  The Bill represented the largest increase in student aid since the G.I. Bill.  It accomplished this in part by cutting excess government subsidies to corporate lenders, who were fattening their wallets on the backs of debt-ridden students.  Republicans tried unsuccessfully to kill the bill in the House.  The Gavel had an excellent post about that fight and the bill's passage.

The Senate version of the bill - The Higher Education Access Act of 2007 - is set to provide $17 billion in student aid to college students and recent graduates, among other provisions to further protect students.  But Ben Nelson (D-NE), whose home state is also home to Nelnet, one of the biggest corporate lenders, is trying to weaken the Senate version of the bill and return $3 billion of that to the lending industry so they can continue to line their pockets on with corporate welfare.

What I'm hearing is that the cloture votes on Iraq and the DOD reauthorization are going to fail, and the Higher Education Access Act of 2007 will be brought to the floor instead, with voting to be scheduled for today or tomorrow.  Right now, Republicans supposedly have 3-6 Democrats willing to side with lenders on the Amendment, so they are likely to see it pass.  

Here's what you can do:

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My close encounter with the student loan scandal...

For those of you who, like me, where shocked the somewhat nefarious tales of student loan improprieties at our nation's finest institutions, we reached a triumphant victory on Wednesday when the House passed a bill that will cut government subsidies to lenders, increase need-based grants, and cut interest rates on loans.  The bill, once reconciled with the Senate version, promises to reduce the burden of affording a college education (the cost of which has risen 40% over inflation in the last five years) on middle-class families.  

I don't know much about student loans, though I should--I am currently enrolled at Teachers College, Columbia University.  I can't tell you the amount of money my one year of graduate school at Columbia will actually cost me, though I assure you that I could buy a 2008 Jaguar S-Type midsize sedan with the money I'll end up spending on my graduate degree.  

I made it to the age of 22 without obtaining any debt through Georgia's HOPE scholarship program, which allows all students in the state who maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA to attend public Georgia universities for free.  Despite that state's low SAT scores and abysmal graduation rates, the state has been aggressively trying to improve its education system for the last 14 years.  Georgia now leads the nation in the percentage of undergraduate students receiving state grants, with 79.4% of students receiving state financial aid.  Besides increasing the opportunity of every student to attend college, the scholarship has increased the quality of the state's colleges and increased African American enrollment in Georgia colleges by 70%.  

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Candidates Should Mobilze Students for Education Reform Now

Cross posted at Future Majority

John Edwards and Barack Obama released their education plans this week.  Both are proposing solid first steps to reduce the burden that rising tuition places on students and eliminate some of the most egregious abuses of the government/corporate lending system.

The plans are both good (and I'll post a head to head review of both plans later this week) but I'd like to see the candidates take it a step further.  

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