By Corrina McKelvey, Melchizedek Moise, Nikole Jones, Alexandria Macaruso
Past and Present of College Costs
An issue that affects the entire nation, specifically college cities like Worcester, is the rising and overwhelming cost of higher education. The cost of higher education has grown astronomically since around the 1970’s, when costs began to inflate. In the 1975-76 school year, the average cost of tuition and fees for a public in-state 4-year institution in America was approximately $2,387.
The average cost of tuition and fees in Massachusetts today for a public 4-year college or university rests at about $9,218. Since 2001, the state of Massachusetts has cut 25% or about $366.1 million worth of funding towards higher education. This is mostly due to tax cuts, worth about $3 billion annually, which, in turn caused public colleges and universities to raise tuition and fees. Massachusetts is not alone here: the defunding of public higher education is a national trend. Most states have cut approximately 10% of funding for higher education institutions during the same period. Massachusetts is among the worst states nationally, with a 31% budget cut for higher education between 2001-13 fiscal years.
With the cost of higher education constantly increasing, students are more likely to drop out, or not even enroll at all. To a city like Worcester, which has thirteen colleges and universities, this is threatening news since the city relies so heavily on college students and graduates.
President Obama’s current policy for higher education costs is to keep costs down and “help middle class families afford college.” Obama did install a policy to make some college tuition free, but only at 2-year community colleges, and only three states have instituted the program. President Obama promised to work with federal government to provide “affordable and attainable” college costs. In 2009, Obama established the American Opportunity Tax Credit to help families who earn a salary of less than $180,000 a year recieve equal to or less than $10,000 per school year. Despite such policies, President Obama has still had difficulty lowering higher education costs.
On July 5th 2016, Hillary Clinton announced her plan for higher education which includes the “New College Compact,” a 350-billion-dollar proposal to make higher education accessible and affordable to everyone. This proposal has six main points: college costs, student loans, student aid, innovation and accreditation, accountability, and college completion.
Clinton plans to reduce the cost of college for all students through funding from the “New College Compact”. The overarching goal of this proposal is for debt free college for everyone. More than half of the 350-billion-dollar “New College Compact” budget would go towards state and college grants that would reduce tuition and living expenses, reducing the need for students to take out loans. According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrations, “Students from families making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to an in-state four-year public college or university without paying tuition, and students from families with incomes up $125,000 will pay no tuition at these schools by 2021.” The “New College Compact” fund would also make tuition free at community colleges, but these policies require students to work a minimum of ten hours to contribute to the costs of their higher education.
Clinton plans to increase student aid by amending the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and fully utilizing Pell Grants. Clinton wants to simplify the FAFSA to increase college enrollment. Then, once enrolled, she wants to reduce living costs for students by restoring year round Pell grants. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education”. Since these grants are not a part of the proposed “Debt Free Education” students would be able to use these grants solely towards living expenses.
Clinton has proposed several changes regarding the current student loan interest rate and the current programs that allow students to take out student loans. Clinton is “proposing to cut the interest rate on student loans [significantly]”. About one third of the funds from the “New College Compact” would go towards relieving student debt of current students by allowing them to refinance their current loans with the new federal interest rate. Clinton has put on her campaign website that she would consolidate the four current income based repayment plans into one program where “every student borrower will know they can enroll in a program where they never have to pay more than 10 percent of income, with college debt forgiven after 20 years so that those who consistently make payments can move on in their lives”. This proposed program would enable students to have their student loan payments deducted automatically from their paycheck. This would streamline the entire student loan process, making it easier for students to pay for college. Clinton has also put on her website that “entrepreneurs would be able to defer their student loans with no payments or interest for up to three years.” This allows students to start their businesses without the added stress of paying for college.
Trump has not publically stated his policies regarding higher education, so much of what we know about his stance comes from Sam Clovis, the policy director of his campaign. Although nothing concrete has been said, Clovis has made it clear that Trump wants to move the task of administering loans from the U.S. Department of Education onto private banks. Removing the government from education in turn removes the very well known Pell Grant. This grant aids millions of students every year.
Trump also believes that colleges and universities should have the responsibility of assessing which students deserve to receive loans. A possible side effect is that a college or university will be biased towards majors that yield bigger profit or a higher chance of job security. This leads to less financial support for majors such as liberal arts. Worcester has six liberal art schools with thousands of students enrolled in their programs. Decreasing the funding for these students could lead to a significant decline in college enrollment in the city.
Trump also does not support Clinton’s policies and completely rejects Obama’s higher education policies. Trump has no intent of making community college free for high school graduates, or making higher education debt free.
Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential nominee, feels that education should be treated as a right, not a privilege, and her ideas for reform show this ideology very well. Stein wants to propose a policy that will bail out students from their debts, just as the federal government does for banks. She hopes to free a generation of students from “debt servitude”. In addition to her abolishment of student loan debt proposal, she wants to establish the basic right to a free college education and guarantee tuition free schooling from pre-k to the university level. This is a seemingly impossible task so to start on her goal of abolishing student loan debt, Stein believes in increasing taxes for the rich in order to reduce student loan interest rates.
Johnson’s main stance on education is that the Department of Education should be dissolved. He believes this will give the power to educate back to the communities that are actually educating. However, the removal of the Department of Education would eliminate federal financial aid, like the FASFA and Pell Grants, which most low income students rely on to finance college.
Johnson did take a specific stance on student loans. Johnson, like Stein, would like to abolish student loans. He believes student loans drive up the cost of tuition, which does have some backing in economic study but is mostly unfounded. College tuition increases are mostly driven up by larger amounts of administrators working at colleges and universities according to an article published by the New York Times.
It is further unlear clear how Johnson will go about abolishing student loans and the debt they create. While he claims he is in favor of refinancing federal student loans in one statement, he also claims that he does not believe in taxing the rich to do so in another. With so little other information about his plans for higher education, there is seemingly no clear plan as to how he will accomplish this particular goal.