It's that time of year again, when young recent college grads with little-to-no work experience are set loose, diplomas in hand, on the so-called ""real"" world where one's value is measured in salary digits and employment perks. Recent economic activity, according to those self-proclaimed experts in the ""science"" of the relationship between humans and money, suggests that things are looking brighter out there in the job market. American consumers are feeling more confident, loosening their purse strings and buying shit. And we all know there's nothing Americans love to do more than buy shit. And theoretically, the more shit Americans buy the more jobs there will be. Right?
Today, it is virtually impossible to put yourself through college and graduate college debt-free. When my mom attended the University of Minnesota in the late '70s/early '80s she was able to pay her tuition in full, each fall by waiting tables overtime all summer. Even if I was able to come up with $5,000 in three months (which is unlikely in the current tipping climate), I would still have to worry about groceries, rent, MG&E, Charter and cell phone bills (and that's a conservative list of fixed expenses). It unlikely that I could earn enough money in three months to cover two semesters worth of tuition. In addition, my mom was a homeowner just a few short months after graduating college. I'll be lucky to be debt-free five years after I graduate.
I share this somewhat personal and particular comparison between my mother and I to illustrate two things. One, the cost of higher education in this country has gotten out of hand. Two, the standard of living in this country is decreasing. Perhaps my understanding of impoverished is lacking, but given the current financial and living situations of many students, I would say some of us qualify as impoverished. Admittedly, the situation of an impoverished college student is different than that of a single mother earning minimum wage; but both scenarios are closely linked because as the cost of education rises, diplomas become less and less accessible. And as higher education becomes less accessible, we will see more impoverished adults supporting dependants on minimum wage jobs and experiencing a decreased standard of living.
There are those who would argue that Americans are accustomed to an unsustainably high standard of living. They point to the foreclosure crisis in this country as evidence of people living outside of their means and claim that it is ""normal"" or ""natural"" to live on less. The attitude that education should be expensive regardless of one's ability to pay needs to change. As a society we must value, and therefore financially support, education.
As fortunate students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate this spring or return to school next fall, we must be conscious of the rising cost of education not just in Wisconsin but across the nation. As students we should make funding for higher education an ""issue"" in next fall's state Senate and governors races. We need to let our representatives in Washington, D.C. know that it is not OK to continue cutting funding for higher education. We need to let the candidates for governor know that we will not support an individual who would even consider making cuts to education in the next fiscal budget.
But, most importantly, we need to call for financial-aid reform. In order to assure that higher education is financially feasible for all, we need to rework the way financial aid is distributed. One suggestion put forward by the Wisconsin Idea Forum would entail eliminating merit-based aid and redirecting those funds to meet need-based aid. In addition, changes must be made in the way aid is distributed and repaid. According to Nik Hawkins in an article for ""Wisconsin People & Ideas"", ""Aid packages could be frontloaded with grants and gradually move toward loans in the latter part of students' college careers."" In addition, Hawkins suggests the institution of ""loan forgiveness programs...in which debt decreases with the number of years in college completed."" These are just a few ways in which higher education could be made more affordable and achievable in Wisconsin. We should care because higher education and public colleges and universities make significant contributions to society, and this is a contribution that should be recognized and supported.
Kathy Dittrich is a senior majoring in English and French. Please send all feedback to email@example.com