With the summer drawing to a close, students are preparing to return to their college campuses and many under the shadow of debt. For the past four decades, college costs have risen faster than inflation; the amount of outstanding student debt is now $1 trillion. In a Bloomberg article, Tom Wolanin, a deputy assistant education secretary in the Clinton administration, goes so far as to say that students today are “indentured” and comprise a “debtor class of former students.”
The majority of students at the urban institution where I teach are first-generation college students (and often, first generation Americans). Most, if not all, receive some form of financial aid. I also advise students about applying for external scholarships (i.e., those not provided by my school’s financial aid office) and, usually in the middle of the fall semester, a small stream of students appears at my office, asking “do I know of any scholarships?” they can apply for.
I’m never happy about the answer I have to give them but it’s one of those situations when you don’t have a choice. We look at lists of scholarships, many from local foundations or organizations and the students meet a painful truth: The scholarships you apply for this year are for funds for next year. The students don’t want to say it, but they need the funds right now: I suspect that it’s only when the first tuition bill shows up in their mailbox that they and their parents really realize, they can’t pay. A couple of students have said quiet good-byes to me at the end of the semester, to resurface at far cheaper community colleges.
Many of the students at my school receive Pell Grants, which provide need-based aid to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students. Funding for these would be slashed under Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan, with its demand to cut domestic discretionary spending by 22 percent in fiscal year 2014.
Care2 blogger Judy Molland has made it clear why the Ryan-Romney ticket is bad for our children’s education. She noted that Ryan has “voted repeatedly against increasing Pell Grants.” Education Week explains what could happen to the grants under Ryan’s budget:
Mr. Ryan’s proposal would make big changes to the Pell Grant program, which would ultimately result in fewer students’ meeting the eligibility requirements of those grants for low-income college students. It would also eliminate interest-free benefits on subsidized Stafford Loans, according to an analysis by the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington.
President Obama has made education spending a priority — the $100 billion stimulus for education programs in 2009, a request to Congress this year for $55 billion to avert teacher layoffs — and has been on the attack; his campaign has released television ads saying that Ryan’s plan will “cut college aid for nearly 10 million students.” My students would certainly be among those.
Education Week asserts that the choice of Ryan has made education much more of an issue in the presidential race and, specifically, how much a role should government play in education. I’d like Paul Ryan to know that students would prefer not to have to take out loans and apply for grants, that they’d rather not have to ask for help but they sure appreciate it – whereas, under Ryan’s plan, they might not even be able to ask for much-needed aid at all.
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Photo by James B Currie