A call to arms for my generation: One. Simple. Question.

The building to the right is Franklin Hall, here at Indiana University in Bloomington. I worked there over the summer, in the office of student financial assistance. Theoretically, this would be a place where students could come to have their problems solved, and in some cases this is definitey true. Unfortunately however, the Bush administration has oversaw what can only be described as the rapid erosion of student aid for higher education.

And goddamnit, I think it is past time that we started calling them on this.

So this diary is a call to action for not just my generation, but for anyone who has ever been, or ever will be, affected by the skyrocketing costs of higher education. What it involves is asking the GOP leadership one very simple question:

Why does your party think it is in the best interests of this country to cut student aid for working families, and at the same time give tax cuts to the Paris Hiltons of the world?

In today's New York Times, we are given a story about the difficulty many recent college graduates are having making ends meet in the Bush economy:

Entry-level wages for college and high school graduates fell by more than 4 percent from 2001 to 2005, after factoring in inflation, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the Economic Policy Institute. In addition, the percentage of college graduates receiving health and pension benefits in their entry-level jobs has dropped sharply.

[...]

Worsening the financial crunch, far more college graduates are borrowing to pay for their education, and the amount borrowed has jumped by more than 50 percent in recent years, largely because of soaring tuition.

In 2004, 50 percent of graduating seniors borrowed some money for college, with their debt load averaging $19,000, Dr. Rouse said. That was a sharp increase from 1993, when 35 percent of seniors borrowed for college and their debt averaged $12,500, in today's dollars.

Why are students borrowing more? Two reasons. The first is that the cost of higher education is increasing at an almost ridiculous rate. The other is that the various forms of federally offered student financial assistance are not. And in the case of the Bush administration, they actually are reducing the number of people eligible to receive these awards.

You see, in February of this year, the Republican House voted through a bill that had been approved by the Senate the previous December. This deficit-reduction bill reduced government aid to many programs, but none more dramatically than that of student aid.

February 8, 2006

The Senate passed a deficit-reduction package that calls for $12.7 billion to be cut from federal student-loan programs over five years, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

It is the largest single cut the federal government has made to student aid programs and is expected to increase the debt burden of students and their families as many borrowers of student loans will face higher interest payments, the newspaper said.

According to the Journal, Congress raised interest rates on Stafford loans to a fixed 6.8 percent. Right now, rates on Stafford loans, which are variable and reset each year, are as low as 4.7 percent, the paper said. Stafford loans are popular among students because they don't have to demonstrate need to qualify for one.

The new legislation also raises interest rates on Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students to a fixed 8.5 percent from a variable rate currently set at 6.1 percent, the Journal said. Also known as PLUS loans, these loans are granted to parents rather than students.

What these changes translate into is literally thousands of dollars in additional debt for students and their families. When I told people this summer that interest rates had jumped by nearly two percent on all of their loans, I usually was confronted with astonishment and anger. "What good is a federal student loan if the interest rate is so damn high!"

I didn't have an answer.

More importantly, this administration has had a particular aversion to increasing aid to compensate for increased costs and inflation. In particular, George Bush has failed to meet one of his campaign promises to increase the Federal Pell grant.

Pell Grants: Pell Grants have been frozen or cut since 2002; they are now stuck at a maximum of $4,050. In his 2000 election campaign, President Bush promised to increase the maximum Pell Grant amount to $5,100. "From 2004 to 2005, 24,000 students lost their Pell grants, according to a report pre-pared by the Congressional Research Service. This was the first drop in the number of students receiving the grants in several years; the number had been growing steadily since 1999."

The visual representations of this administration's actions are even more dramatic:


I could have written a diary asking why the Democrats haven't plastered graphs like the ones above on every college campus in America, but I will save that for another day. The key here is that families are hurting, and the Republican leadership has completely ignored there needs. This lends itself to my one simple question that every person should be asking:

Why does the Republican party care more about Paris Hilton's bank account than providing financial aid to students?

...or...

Why does the Republican leadership cut financial aid to hard working students in the name of balancing the budget, but turns around and waste that savings on billionaires?

The particular permutation you choose isn't nearly as important as the sentiment involved: This administration doesn't care about education. This administration does not care about working families. This administration does not care about my generation.

So consider this a call to arms. The issue of the Iraq War is definitely going to be the main focus of this election, if for no other reason than the media will tell us that it is. That being said, I think that we should not let ourselves be boxed in by the war vs. anti-war mantra, or we risk losing sight of the many other important issues that we face today. The rising cost of higher education is one of these issues, and I hope that we can all begin to ask the Republican leadership one very simple question:

Why are students less important to you than billionaires?


(Originally posted at Deny My Freedom)

Tags: Education, student aid, Student Debt (all tags)

Comments

3 Comments

Just some late night musings...

...of a frustrated college student.

I would appreciate any feedback you all might have.

by Yoss 2006-09-03 09:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Just some late night musings...

Sen Biden is emphatic on restoring educational aid for college students. He was interviewed by Steve Scully on C-Span this weekend. I think he plans to introduce a volunteer program that pays $3000 toward tuition following a 3-month commitment. People may opt to volunteer for longer, as well. He'd like to see this implemented nationwide.

Because I didn't make notes, and if I've mis-remembered the speaker, please speak up. Couldn't find a transcript, nor is the plan on either of his websites yet.

by Books Alive 2006-09-04 08:16AM | 0 recs
Re: The banks make a profit

Yoss, having just read more of your post, the same speaker (Biden, I think) argued that because Federal loans are subsidized, banks will never make a loss. He feels the Federal funding should be taken out of private banking hands. One more Republican big business interest to confront, I'm afraid.

by Books Alive 2006-09-04 08:23AM | 0 recs

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