When I voted on Monday, I voted “no” on Proposition 3, the Texas constitutional amendment designed to increase the amount of money available for guaranteed student loans in the state of Texas. This was a no-brainer for me, even as the child in my womb kicked to remind me that in about 19 years, he or she will be considering options for higher education. It was an easy vote to cast because I know my child will be better off if student loans never enter the equation.
I am someone who went into debt to pay for my public school education. I bought into the idea that I needed to go to school, right then, right away, because my earning potential was suffering. Not being a National Merit Scholar, left-handed, possessed of preternatural talents, or from a designated “low-income” family, most scholarships and grants were out of my reach. Loans, however, were right there, ready for the taking. So I financed my classes and eventually even my campus housing, mostly out of a desire to not “miss out” on the college experience, and to arm myself with skills that someone else told me I needed to have. And now, thanks not only to the economy but also my career choice, my “earning potential” just can’t compete with my student loan debt. The “skills” I picked up in college largely didn’t come from a classroom (unless you count being able to take notes in shorthand, or embellish a short answer enough to fill the lines on an exam paper). And none of it seems marketable, as the jobs my field of study suggests require a master’s or more, or more “experience” in the field, that kind of thing.
My situation is similar to that of many people, and the number keeps jumping; it has been enough for some people to join the Occupy Wall Street protests, and I submit that those people don’t know why they’re mad, or at whom their anger should be aimed. They ought to be upset that they fell for it to begin with; they should be irate that government willingly lured them in; they should be looking for solutions to their situations. There’s a real debt problem in this country, and the student loan industry holds a good portion of it, enough to cause financial woes on par with those the housing bubble caused. The economy sits on a precipice and student loan debt alone could push it over. It is an increasingly unstable situation.
Today, ABC News’ Diane Sawyer used a deeply astonished tone of voice to tell the nation that in just the last year, the cost of a public higher education increased 8% (compared to 4% in private schools). That’s a nationwide average – there are public schools in Texas, once the “affordable” options, that have passed 10% tuition increases and fee increases to pay for stadiums on a near yearly basis. I’ve written about this so many times, it seems. And it is fascinating to me that President Obama talked about it today in the terms that he did, acting as though the debt itself is the problem. The debt is definitely an issue, but we should ask ourselves WHY student loan debt is out of control.
In Texas, we have public universities that receive a substantial amount of tax dollars, padded by generous grants and foundation donations, and that spend an exorbitant amount of time, energy, and cash lobbying for more. They raise tuition as often as the public will let them, and coerce students into approving fee increases for amenities that will supposedly make the school more “competitive” – which is really a term for “attractive to out-of-state students,” who pay substantially more in tuition. All the while, tuition outpaces inflation, and the cost of attending even smaller state schools that were designed to provide an alternative for those who could not afford the flagship schools in Austin and College Station skyrockets. We are held hostage by a society that is telling us over and over that a college diploma is essential – a high school education is no longer enough to even get you in the door for many blue collar jobs, and the quality of a high school education has dropped. College students attend remedial writing and mathematics courses in droves and spend half their time in that first four years catching up.
Meanwhile, the public is wooed to pay for “Tier One” status, increased financial aid, and student loans. Most people don’t notice or care, because they aren’t paying for their child’s higher education yet, or because their child got loans to attend a university and that makes the whole scheme less odious.
Proposition 3 is a further attempt by the Texas Legislature to give universities a free pass to raise tuition. As long as universities think there’s a way for students to pay for school no matter the cost, there is no incentive to lower tuition, to cut unnecessary or redundant programs, to get serious about financial reform. All of the problems I talked about here exist in part because of government’s willingness to put you, the taxpayer, on the hook for the money, and you, the voter, responsible for its decisions.
Do your part to put an end to this. Vote “no” on Proposition 3.