Higher education Failing Students in Affordability

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For many students, their first home will cost less than theirfour-year college education. Unfortunately, in today’s society theonly thing that is possibly more expensive than attending college isnot attending college.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, anonprofit group who rrecently eleased a report on the state ofacademic affordability, drops the country to an “F” in affordabilityfrom the “D” it received in the nonprofit group’s report two yearsago. The report, titled “Measuring Up 2004,” measures affordability,partly by comparing a state’s average family income with the cost oftuition at private and public four-year universities and communitycolleges within each state.

By this measure, the cost of a college education, in comparisonwith the benefits received, has risen drastically during the past twoyears. In fact, many people are being all together marginalized ordriven from higher education by higher costs and, according to”Measuring Up 2004,” by more apt high school seniors. These studentsare increasingly forced to attend community colleges since manyfour-year institutions are filling up. This, coupled with theprospect of record debt at time of graduation for college educatedpeople, is driving many otherwise apt and able collegians away fromacademia.

In our own CSU system, we have begun to feel the ill effects ofthis nationwide war on education. Perhaps it’s because we have apresident who has professed his own dislike for reading, that as anation we are turning our collective backs on education. Whatever thereason, it’s a disturbing trend that will only lead to furthersocietal ills through less educated political decisions, and a lesseducated, hence less competitive, work force.

The only individual states to receive a grade higher than a “D” onaffordability were California, Minnesota and Utah. California, whiledropping to a low “B” grade-wise, remains the nation’s mostaffordable state for higher education. Burgeoning deficits and “theGovernator,” however, are warning of greater budget cuts foreducation in general, and higher education in particular inCalifornia.

According to the University of Texas, the Federal Pell Grantcovered 77 percent of public college tuition and fees in 1980. Today,it covers only 40 percent. For three years in a row now, the Bushadministration has frozen or cut the maximum Pell Grant award. To addinsult to injury, the current budget also cuts the Perkins Loanprogram by nearly $100 million and provides no increase for theFederal Work Study program, despite greater college enrollment.

In today’s increasingly competitive and white-collar work force, agood college education is key to success in a rewarding – bothemotionally and economically – career. In strictly economicterms, education is an important investment in human capital, onethat allows America to compete in an increasingly global market.

Perhaps the U.S. House of Representatives Web site gives the mostsuccinct view of the current state of affordable higher education:”As the size and cost of the student loan programs continues to grow,more funding is being shifted toward loans for middle- andupper-income families, leaving less money to finance grants and otherneed-based programs for the poor. Moreover, grants as a percentage ofall federal aid have fallen by 36 percent, and educationalopportunities for the poor have declined. The increase in theavailability of student loans does not necessarily reflect anincrease in the well-being of middle- and upper-income families,since tuition increased by approximately 45 percent during the past10 years, offsetting much of the benefits of the increased funding.Overall, the federal aid system is heavily dependent on student debt,even for the most disadvantaged families.”

Whatever the reasoning provided, affordable higher education isbecoming as scarce as an honest politician. Finding a politician toaddress this, with any proposal not shifting yet more weight onto thebacks of students, is nearly impossible. The gap between the have andhave-not will become increasingly wider and the economic ladder willbecome increasingly steeper if education continues to outpace theAmerican people. Education is not only a societal good – it isa necessity. Until it is viewed as such, America will continue to befaced with a darkening societal path.

– Bill Luecke is a history senior and opinion editor for The DailyAztec.

– This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of TheDaily Aztec. Send e-mail to letters@thedailyaztec.com.Anonymous letters will not be printed – include your full name, majorand year in school.