Student Debt and the (50 State) Democratic Party - Help Us!
by Yoss, Mon Jun 19, 2006 at 06:30:42 AM EDT
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...
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>.
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>: 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