College Used to be Affordable

One of upcoming battles with Congress that President Obama is facing is over the interest rates on student loans.

The White House announced Friday that it is launching a major campaign to keep rates on federal Stafford loans at their current levels – 3.4 percent – beyond July 1, when by law they are set to double.

The rate change would impact an estimated 7.4 million students, who would each see an additional $1,000 in debt per year at the higher rates, according to the administration.

Which Republicans seem to think is just fine.  In fact, some of them have been making statements about how they didn’t need student loans, so why should today’s students?  Well, for one thing, things have changed since they – and I – went to college.

Representative Virginia Foxx seems to think that it’s still the same, and that college students are irresponsible for borrowing money:

FOXX: I went through school, I worked my way through, it took me seven years, I never borrowed a dime of money. He borrowed a little bit because we both were totally on our own when we went to college, totally. […] I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that.

Frankly, I doubt she’s ever looked at the cost of a college education today.  I have.  The reason I say that, is because she would be in for a very rude awakening if she tried getting a college education without loans today.     Now, I’m slightly younger than she is, so my college years were in the mid-70’s.  You know what?  Back then, working full-time for a year at a minimum wage job would have paid for a year at a state college.  That’s tuition, room, board, books, and fees, and I mean after taxes on the income.  Today?  It wouldn’t even cover 2/3’rds the cost, and that’s without paying taxes on the  income!

I looked up the costs for today’s state colleges in my state.  Just so you can get an idea, the cost I had was something on the order of $3000 a year.  Right now, it runs just over $21,000, or 7 times higher.  Now here’s the other difference between my time in college and now:  Financial aid.  Back when I went to college there were the “Basic Educational Opportunity Grants,” from the federal government, New York’s “Tuition Assistance Program,” and, if you did well on a competitive exam, a Regent’s Scholarship.  If you were from a poor family (I was), and had done well on the exam (I did), the amount you would receive would amount to enough to pay for that year of college.  I also worked part-time, which enabled me to have something resembling a social life, as well as buy various books and class materials that weren’t covered by the grants and scholarships.   So, if I hadn’t had to take an extra semester, I would have left college without owing a dime. As it was,  I came out owing a nominal amount which was paid off within two years.

Now, today?  Those programs either don’t exist anymore, or their successors don’t even come close to covering the cost of a college education.  Work your way through college?  It’s going to take a lot longer than 7 years, and no, there aren’t a lot of jobs that a non-college graduate is going to find which will enable them to not only live, but sock away enough to pay for college.

So it doesn’t surprise me that young people these days graduate with heavy debt loads.  It’s also why I have no patience with people like Representative Foxx.  Great, fine, she went through college “back in the day” without borrowing money.  Hey, so did I for 4 years.  But you know what?  Back then, college was affordable.  These days, it’s not.   Holding yourself up as an example without understanding that just shows that the education you paid for wasn’t very good.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “College Used to be Affordable

  1. Vic78

    A minimum wage job while you go to college today means that you’ll more than once a week. How did she get to chair the committee on higher education. She’s supposed to be on top of these things. What she’s saying is that she doesn’t really want to hear what’s going on from someone like a student, professor, or administrator. Hearing them out will go a long way in finding a way to provide some relief. It’s worse than when they wouldn’t allow Sandra Fluke to speak at the hearing. With Foxx we don’t even have the possibility of such a hearing. We have a president that’s willing to bend over backwards to help college students out and it’s almost not up for discussion. If she thinks undergrad debt is bad, she should look into grad student debt. I’d expect the committee chair to be sympathetic. I could see Saturday Night Live making a skit with someone sounding this crazy.

    • She’s a good example of ideology over reality. Seriously, I doubt she really cares what college actually costs.

    • aquagranny911

      Foxx is really a very disgusting excuse for human DNA. Just look at some of the other things she has said. I really hope her district gives her a strong boot in the ass come November!

      If it’s true that “God really don’t like ugly” then Karma should be knocking at her door real soon, imo.

      • Oh, I’m quite aware of what else she has said over the years. She’s a perfect example of “I got mine, screw you,” that seems to be prevalent in the Republican Party these days. They all like to say how they “worked for what they have,” and “nobody helped them.” They seem to ignore that other people work just as hard, or harder without the breaks they got, and yes, they did have a lot of help along the way. They just want to forget that.

  2. aquagranny911

    NAILED IT! I’m glad you wrote this. Hubby & I both got advanced degrees through scholarships, grants for work study & working part time & over summers. But this was all nearly 50 years ago when such a thing was possible.

    Our children were able to get their undergrad degrees the same way with no debt but for two their advanced degrees cost them big $$$. One wished to be an epidemiologist. She does cancer research & even with the financial help of the group she worked for & working full time she still amassed a lot of debt before she finished her degree but she considers that just the Price she had to pay to do what she has dedicated her working life to.

    People who finished school before the 1990’s have no concept of how things have changed & how high university, even the state ones, costs have risen over most people’s average income.

    • I’m aware of it because I have nephews and nieces in college, or recently graduated. I know my sisters all had college savings accounts set up for their children, since the day they were born. You can imagine their shock when it turned out that the accounts that would have been quite adequate, had costs tracked inflation, weren’t even close to the current costs. Adding to that was that many of the programs we remembered from our college days were no longer there, or if they were, were greatly reduced.

      To add another point – while everyone doesn’t need to go to college, the cost of vocational/technical training hasn’t gotten cheaper with time. It’s gone up just as much.

      • aquagranny911

        I’m glad you brought up Voc/Tech training which has now been almost totally out sourced to “for profit” institutions whose main goal is to fleece the students of all they can get rather than providing the real training & resources to jobs that these institutions advertise.

        This has been a huge racket that has mostly hurt poor & middle income people who did not want the so called “traditional university education” & has abused the student loan process.

        One thing PBO has been doing under the radar is shutting some of this down by not only targeting these people for fraud but also for promoting business & local community colleges working together to train people for work. There are successful programs of “school to work” going on in communities all through the US.

        • What I found breathtakingly arrogant (and clueless) was when Santorum was trying to make hay by calling the President “a snob” for wanting people to be able to go to college if they wanted to.. For all the various Republicans singing the praises 🙄 of blue collar labor, not a damn one of them seems to have a clue about the amount of training and education that is needed for those fields. You aren’t a carpenter just because you can bang a nail into a board.

          • aquagranny911

            Absolutely! These GOP are really clueless about the skill & training that goes into so many jobs like carpentry such as, welding, plumbing & electrical work.

            It’s one more nail in the GOP coffin of disconnect with the average American.

  3. Absolutely! These GOP are really clueless about the skill & training that goes into so many jobs like carpentry such as, welding, plumbing & electrical work.

    Most of them have a low regard for anything that doesn’t involve sitting at a desk and making a lot of money doing that.

    I have a better appreciation for it than they do, since even though my work is technically “administrative,” I seem to spend an awful lot of time doing carpentry, plumbing, or wiring. Mostly patching up damage, trying to get something back in operation, or setting something up. If I can’t do it, then it’s time for the professionals, who are in short supply.

  4. I graduated from college in 1968. The guaranteed tuition plan at a private liberals arts college was $1,080/year. I had scholarships and part-time jobs. I worked as a life guard and swimming instructor for $5/hr. Thirty five years later my nephew attended a similar school and tuition was $28,000/year and he worked as a lifeguard and got $10/hr.

    Not only has college tuition skyrocketed but minimum wage or for lifeguards a skill based job with Red Cross certification has not kept pace.

    I think Virginia Foxx is so unbelievably out of touch that a fine blue dog should take her on.

    • Exactly. Minimum wage when I was in college was, IIRC, $2.30 an hour. Today, it’s $7.25. So, while it may sound great to say “it tripled,” the cost of tuition did far and away more than that.

      I know that lifeguards are an example of the pay not keeping up. One of the people I know is the chief lifeguard for the town. He makes $18 an hour doing that. He used to be an “assistant chief lifeguard” for the state. He made $13 an hour doing that, so when the town job opened up, he jumped. Less responsibility (2 beaches instead of 10) and more pay. I don’t know what regular lifeguards make, but I’m assuming it’s less than an assistant chief.

      I think Representative Foxx is indicative of the extreme “anti-intellectual” (read “educated”) attitude that the Republicans have, since being taken over by the far right. It didn’t used to be that way, either. The State University of New York system owes its creation, and expansion into what it was when I went, to two Republican governors (Dewey and Rockefeller), and there was a time when Republicans were just as strong advocates of college education as any Democrat. These days, they seem to feel that “conservative” should mean “illiterate,” unless you’re rich.

  5. Alan Scott

    Norbrook,

    . Can you tell me why the rate is set to double in the first place ?

    • Because of a sunset provision in the law:

      The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, passed in 2007, gradually phased down rates from 6.8 percent over each of four successive academic years, but mandated that the cuts would expire in 2012.