Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Party - Help Us!


As a member of the generation currently attending college, I understand that my peers have proven themselves to be largely apathetic to the political process, and more or less screwed us over in the 2004 election. On behalf of all of us, I apologize.


But if the Democratic Party wants a plan motivate my peers, and I mean a foolproof plan that could help revitalize the Party, then the time has come to help a situation we are all facing every day: Debt. I am working in my school's student financial aid office this summer, and more and more I am becoming convinced that this is an issue we could champion, and it should have happened a long time ago. The Democrats have already hinted that they want to help, but they need to either take on this problem with full force, or not at all.


...follow me below for some background and ideas...

Background


Our federal financial aid programs have fared like everything else under President Bush: They are failing.


For those of you who don't know, the Pell Grant is an award that applies most often to those who have the most financial need. It essentially offers 'free money' toward the cost of attendance, and can help give those in the most horrible financial situations another chance at a college education. Now before the conservatives begin their chants of selfish social welfare, it should be noted that these students have to maintain a good GPA, attend and pass their classes, and have a documented plan for a timely graduation. In short, this is exactly what our government should be doing for the people of this country.


But what has happened to this program under the Bush Administration? Nothing. Little or no increase in the budget for the program, little or no increase in the amount of aid, and little or no explanation other than the rallying cry to cut the budget.


To give some visual evidence, here is a graph displaying the growth in the Federal Pell Grant over the last ten years.



Notice the dramatic increases under the Clinton years, and the wall that hits when Bush takes over. They can contend that this is reflective of the recessionary state of the economy, but they haven't seemed to mind ignoring these 'economic realities' when it comes to increasing military funding over the last six years. Let there be no doubt: Bush thinks Iraq is much more important than our college educations.


But while the Pell Grant amounts have been holding steady, the same cannot be said for the cost of attending college in this country:


For parents and students alike, the stakes are rising quickly. According to the College Board, over the past decade total charges (defined as tuition, fees, room and board) at private four-year university have risen at an average annual rate of 5.3 percent and total charges now average $29,026 per year; at four- year public colleges the average annual increase has been 6.0 percent and total charges now average $12,127 per year.



If this trend continues, we are going to see the federal financial aid programs devolve into something that can no longer serve as a salvation to families looking to send their children to college, but rather a simple footnote on their monthly bill. And the problems aren't just isolated to the Pell Grant program, but rather I use that as it is indicative of the widespread problems students and parents are facing. High interest rates, soaring tuition prices, and the complete lack of solutions from Washington plague families financing an education.


This isn't smart, it isn't American, and it does more to endanger our homeland security than 99% of the threats mentioned by the administration on a regular basis. We are losing the intellectual race, and it is showing. We can't afford to let our country be content with stagnation. The story of our nation is forward movement through education, and that can't occur without our government providing the financial backing for national education programs that serve everyone.


College students want a Party


In last week's unveiling of the Democratic Party's 'New Direction,' they made mention of their wish to make going to college easier and cheaper. But as much as I appreciate the promise of lower student loan rates and tax-deductible tuition, there is a problem with the plan to use this as a wedge in 2006 and beyond: No one knows.


I get phone calls every day from parents and students angry about student loan interest rates, the lack of federal funding, and the impossible nature of funding a college education in America now. I have heard complaints against the government on a regular basis, but I can honestly say I have never heard anyone say, "If only the Democrats were in charge..."


The reason is that none of these people know that the Democrats stand with them. They see the monolithic authority of the federal government standing against them, and they don't hear any voices coming from Washington that have anything helpful to say. <u>They don't know, and we have no one to blame but ourselves</u&gt.


What to do


You want the youth vote? Earn it. Start a college campus campaign touring the nation's public universities, giving out literature and providing a face to the solutions parents and students are looking for. Honestly, how much would it cost to rent out a few buses, and have them tour the country, with local Congressional delegations and 2006 challengers stopping in at the Universities to give speeches and explain our positions on the issues. This would provide a national message for little or no cost, and would generate the kind of press we need to get our 'New Direction' out of the press room and into the living rooms of America. <u>This is what our country needs</u&gt: Leadership.


What do we have to lose? How can a grassroots campaign like this do any harm to our Party? How can taking on this issue with the full force of our organization do anything but help us in November? The resources required would be minimal, the movement would be real and tangible to the people, and it would finally let the middle-class know that the Democrats stand with them, not with Washington.


So what do you all think? Feel free to tell me if I am wrong, but after answering the phones in this call center eight hours a day, five days a week, I am starting to realize that there is a real anger toward our government in the people attending colleges. These people are looking for someone to help them, and there is no reason it cant be the Democratic Party.

(Originally Posted at Deny My Freedom and cross posted at Daily Kos) / My Left Wing

Tags: College Education, Student Debt, student loans (all tags)

Comments

17 Comments

Big God-Damn and Very Important Issue

Plus -- the presentation is really good.

Thanks

by Bonddad 2006-06-19 06:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Big God-Damn and Very Important Issue

Coming from you that means a lot.

Thanks, and I hope that the leadership realizes how big of an issue this, and how little attention they really give it.

And for the record, I recommend myself for leading the student-outreach bus tour...I wouldn't mind a decent internship like that!

by Yoss 2006-06-19 06:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Par

Rock on.

Check out Tamara Draut's book "Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead"
http://www.demos.org/pub663.cfm

by Our Gal in Brooklyn 2006-06-19 06:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Par

Thanks, it looks like it would be a great read.

This was a situation I was more or less unaware of before taking this summer position in the financial aid office, but what has surprised me more than anything is the magnitude of the problem.

This is something that will affect a generation of people, not just a segment of society.

Thanks again.

by Yoss 2006-06-19 06:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Par

You are right about the problem and your solution, though it seems like a drop in the barrel, is at least a suggestion. However, something bothers me. I too consider this to be an immense crisis and something that threatens the future of our country. Failing to educate all of our citizens to whatever their maximum capacity may be is throwing away our most important resource. Basing the ability to go to college and emerge without crushing debt on parents' wealth is obscene.  Being forced to pick a career based not on talents or one's calling but on making enough money to pay back loans is a complete waste. And educating people to fill high-paying jobs adds to the country's tax base.  I am totally aware of the high cost of post-high school education, its total unaffordability (especially in my state, Ohio) and the shrinking resources available to help pay for it. And I'm completely outraged by it.

Ok, that said- how on earth is it that I have a mountain of information on today's college costs and I am aware of exactly how instrumental the Republicans have been in worsening the situation and how some Democrats have proposed to reverse the situation- yet I am decades out of college with two degrees  and have always been completely debt-free since my parents set up a college trust fund for me when I was born? How can I, whom this doesn't impact, understand the crisis, yet college students panicked and groaning under debt are somehow are blithely unaware -- or choose not to be aware? If I were in their position, I'd be educating myself on which of our so-called representatives in government are helping and which are hindering.

A college literature campaign isn't a bad idea. It's doing something, at least. But if students can't be bothered to go online and do a little research and learn about what solutions to demand from their representatives, what makes you think they'll read a piece of literature or even stop at your table, if there's another table on the other side of the student union signing them up for credit cards or a chance to win an iPod?

If the thought of being crushed by 25 or 30 years of debt that takes away any hope of buying a home or saving for their future doesn't cause students to become engaged and active, I have to wonder what will.

by anastasia 2006-06-19 08:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Par

But this campaign would be about starting that education process. While it is true that the responsibility for educating yourself on student debt issues is a personal one, there has up until this point been no movement toward collective action on the issue. This could help change that.

By placing Democrats on college campuses, we could not only educate students on the issues, but have an open field day on framing them correctly. This would be simultaneous educating and campaigning. Providing solutions, and then giving the way to bring them about (voting Democrats into office).

While I agree that students may not pay attention, I think that a national campaign with a little buzz could really bring people in. Not only that, but the July-August period on campuses generally has parents taking an active role in activities as well. This could reach more people than ever, at a time when the issues we are discussing are fresh in their minds and well understood.

I appreciate your concerns, and you may be right to a certain extent, but I really believe that a cohesive national campaign that reaches out to students and parents on campuses could be a really effective way to get our message out there.

by Yoss 2006-06-19 08:26AM | 0 recs
Correction on the youth vote analysis

Great original Post.  

Dems certainly have gotten the message that college affordability is a critical and motivating issue for young people and many families.  You cover the issues well and the democratic plan being talked about now is a good one.

But I must correct your opening paragraph and relieve of your misplaced guilt.

Young people did turnout and vote in 2004 and they were one of the few success stories of 2004 for Democrats.  Overall turnout was up by 4 percentage points while under 25 turnout was up by 11 points.  

Also, young people were one of the only groups of voters to actually increase democratic performance in 2004.  We lost of lot of people and groups compared to 2004, but young people went from being   a 2 point advantage in 2000 to a 13 point advantage in 2004.

Sorry apologize not.  Young voters are an important and active base for democrats.  Check out a memo from democratic pollster Celinda Lake on how key young people are for the 2006 elections.

It is online at http://www.youngvoterpac.org/news.php

Going back to your main point though, this is an important issue and it is great that the dems in Congress are running with it.

"If they retake control of Congress, Democrats will act quickly to increase the minimum wage, lower prescription drug costs and slash interest rates on student loans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Saturday."

AP Story - June 17th.

by Young Voter PAC 2006-06-19 08:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Correction on the youth vote analysis

This came up on the Daily Kos thread, and I agree with what you say. Don't get me wrong, my angst comes from a lack of results, not a lack of faith.

There is a lot of potential for my generation to do good, and some of us are, but I just wish that there were some issues that could unite us as a group to do something powerful. I think this might be the issue, as self-interested as it may be.

Thanks for the comment.

by Yoss 2006-06-19 08:28AM | 0 recs
Student Debt Alert

This is a great issue.  Non-college young people get it, student gets it, parents get it.

Here is a great web site with good resources for action on the issue.  Including a student debt clock that can be placed on anyone's web site.  It is like the national debt clock, but is counting up the current level of outstanding student debt.

It is alarming!

http://www.studentdebtalert.org/

by Young Voter PAC 2006-06-19 08:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Student Debt Alert

Wonderful website. That counter is great.

Thanks a lot.

by Yoss 2006-06-19 08:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Par

If we're gonna have a federal government that subsidizes anything, it should certainly include higher education.

Exactly! If people only knew what the amount of money dedicated toward corporate welfare could do if it was dedicated to properly funding public education, I think the reaction would be amazing.

Where are our leaders on this issue?

Thanks for the comment.

by Yoss 2006-06-19 08:46AM | 0 recs
BS - Young Voter Pac is right

We did not screw over people in 2004!!

Comparitvely, turnout increased among college students far more than among 24+ voters. They deserve more of the heartche. We did more with less.

Could we have done more? Yes.
Could 24+ have done more? HELL YES, DON'T SCAPEGOAT US.

I flipped out on Ezra Klein when he said this in the aftermath of 2004 back at Pandagon, and I'll flip out again.

by MNPundit 2006-06-19 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: BS - Young Voter Pac is right

Um, alright.

by Yoss 2006-06-19 09:59AM | 0 recs
right on!!!

I'm entering college this fall, and the cost is staggerring.  The interest rates on the loans are really outrageous, and they're going up a lot really soon.

by Max Friedman 2006-06-19 09:25AM | 0 recs
'New Direction' - first stop: tax deductions!

The first item under the heading Cut College Costs is

Make college tuition deductible from taxes;

Which is as regressive a way of increasing funding as I can think of.

(It then goes on to talk about Pell Grants and student loans. But - why the tax deduction plan in the first place (in both senses!))

Only part of the larger madness that is New Direction.

But, since you brought it up...

by skeptic06 2006-06-19 09:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Par

In Clinton's day, a plan was mooted to cap the payment at a fixed percentage of income, so that if you had debt of $80,000, and turned out to be a bond lawyer, you'd be paid off in under six years.

If you were a potter, or a kindergarten teacher, or a retail clerk, it would take the rest of your natural life, but at least the loans wouldn't eat a.) half your paycheck every month for ten years and b.) drive your choice of profession.

by Davis X Machina 2006-06-20 07:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Par

Excellent post, Yoss!

You hit all the right buttons.

Pell Grants (along with work-study, scholarships, loans and working 25-30 hours per week) made it possible for me to attend college. I paid for college on my own with not one cent from my parents...they just couldn't afford it.

This paragraph really says it all :

This isn't smart, it isn't American, and it does more to endanger our homeland security than 99% of the threats mentioned by the administration on a regular basis. We are losing the intellectual race, and it is showing. We can't afford to let our country be content with stagnation. The story of our nation is forward movement through education, and that can't occur without our government providing the financial backing for national education programs that serve everyone.

Thanks for sharing.

by Kath in CO 2006-06-21 03:38PM | 0 recs

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