President Joe Biden has finally agreed to student loan forgiveness, canceling up to $20,000 for individuals who received Pell grants and $10,000 for all other loan recipients.
Since the announcement, the responses are mixed. Some are excited about the move, some are not, and others are pleased but want more in loan forgiveness. One opinion I heard and found interesting was that rather than relief coming from the chief executive, it should come from college presidents by lowering college costs.
College is expensive. When I was born in 1983, the average cost (tuition, fees, room and board) at a public college or university was $8,650 and $19,580 at a private college or university. By 2019, the cost at a public college or university was $21,370 and $48,510 at a private college or university.
After reflecting on it, I realized that simply lowering the cost of higher education isn’t as simple as it sounds. But that’s the problem with pundits sometimes, particularly politicians — they leave some details out.
State cuts to higher education funding are what raised prices at colleges and universities and pushed the burden onto students. According to a 2019 report, state disinvestment in higher education creates higher costs for students and their families, impacting low-income Black students and students of color. From the 2008 school year to 2018, 41 states spent an average of 13 percent less per student — about $1,220 — after adjusting for inflation.
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One could argue that the cost increases have more to do with building new buildings and paying salaries. Those are factors that have helped to raise costs. But it’s the cuts to higher education that are most responsible, to the tune of 79 percent for cost increases.
So, again… the cost is passed on to students.
There are those who don’t care, saying they themselves had to pay back their student loans and so must newly borrowing students. But there is a difference between paying for college 30 years ago—when the average cost of a public university was a little more than $10,000—and today. Even crazier than the lack of empathy is the lack of will to do something about it. People can do something about it.
We can vote for state representatives and governors who’ll make higher education funding a priority. But to do so, that could mean paying more taxes … and of course, we don’t want the government taking more money out of our paychecks.
But that’s what taxes are for (theoretically).
Taxes are meant to collect from all to serve the public good so that all people can get what they need to live a sustainable and fruitful life. Such a life translates into the formation of strong communities and a healthy society. But we (the people) must want that for us collectively as opposed to living every man (or family) for themselves.
In addition to voting for folks who’ll make higher education funding a priority, we can vote for folks who’ll shift priorities, redistributing the tax dollars we have now to meet the needs of people. That includes funding education.
But instead of doing that, folks will continue to think about themselves while falling into the trapping of political talking points and the trope of pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. That’s the trick of white supremacy — confuse some as to where our focus and concern should lie.
Someone is getting one over on us. It isn’t the people whose loans are forgiven.
Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. He is the author of the upcoming book, Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids, with an anticipated release date of February 2023. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .