Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.
Over my past four years at MSU, try as I might, I have never been able to successfully pay for college on my own. When I say “pay for college,” I am referring not only to the rapidly rising cost of tuition, but also the added costs of food, clothing and shelter — not to mention the exorbitant price of textbooks.
When I was growing up, my parents made no secret of the fact I would be expected to foot the bill for my college education. As a kid, this thought didn’t scare me, but now that I’ve set foot into the “real” world, I’ve realized just how ridiculous and impossible paying for a college education actually is.
Sure, there’s financial aid, but now that I’ve racked up approximately $30,000 in debt and am facing an imminent graduation, this number looks pretty intimidating. The thought of my rising student debt combined with America’s reportedly miserable job market might even be enough to scare me into joining the Peace Corps, or worse, hiding away in graduate school.
Thankfully, I am lucky enough to have parents who realize their requirement that I pay for college entirely without their assistance is insane, if not downright impossible. I’ve had a part-time job ever since I set foot on MSU’s campus, working 10-15 hours per week while attempting to maintain a reasonable grade-point average on a 15-credit class schedule. I know there are students who work much harder than I do, and students who aren’t lucky enough to have parents who can lend them an extra $700 to help pay off their spring tuition bill. I have no idea how these students do it.
The American expectation that a student simply can get a summer job to pay for college and graduate with limited debt and countless job prospects is completely skewed and not at all applicable to today’s society. The price of receiving a college education affects more than just our pocketbooks. The extreme price of a college education excludes countless American citizens from receiving well-deserved educations, simply because of the unreasonable cost.
According to a report by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, the average debt of MSU graduates is $21,818. Michiganians pay some of the highest bills for college education in the country and also live in the state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. This is a scary combination because the high level of debt laid upon college graduates combined with Michigan’s sour job market is sure to drive away many of our best-educated job seekers to employment in other states.
An analysis by Bridge Magazine revealed the amount of student loans taken out by college students in Michigan’s public universities has increased 49 percent over four years, from 2007 to 2010. MSU gave out $337,017,100 in student loans in 2010, making MSU the largest lender out of Michigan’s 15 public universities. Although having a large availability of money to lend to students is admirable, it’s unfortunate that this number also translates to a large amount of student debt.
These days, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt just to further your education is commonplace. It’s expected that recent college graduates will have some amount of debt to pay off after graduation. Higher education is an American tradition, and paying off student debt has become an inevitable addition to that tradition.
But it shouldn’t have to be this way. Higher education, much like health care, should be a human right.
Receiving a higher education allows for upward mobility in the job market and thus creates a higher standard of living for everyone. However, the high cost of a college education is exclusionary. It’s no longer accurate to say that attending college is possible for everyone.
In January, President Barack Obama proposed several different plans to keep down the cost of higher education. These included the “Race to the Top” competition, which would reward states that keep down the price of tuition, build common academic standards to improve college and career readiness for students and double the number of work-study jobs, among other things. Obama also proposed increasing Perkins loans from $1 billion to $8 billion, as well as changing the way certain forms of financial aid are distributed.
However, despite all of these proposed changes, it’s still not enough. Obama’s policies, although well-intentioned, are subpar at best. These plans might serve to help future students, but recent college graduates still are left to fend for themselves.
I can’t say I have all of the answers for how the U.S. should fix this problem. The price of education is unreasonable, and it’s a difficult situation to remedy, but more focus needs to be put on this issue if we want to effect real change.
Caron Creighton is a guest columnist at The State News and a professional writing senior. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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