College students be damned

Plus, Islamic democracy?
By EDITORIAL  |  March 22, 2006

CASH AND CARRY: Neither public nor private institutions are doing enough to contain costs.Education is the key to the future in the brave new world of the knowledge-based economy. Yet the price of obtaining a college degree continues to outstrip the rate of inflation. This well-entrenched trend may show signs of slowing, but there is little hope it will be brought under control in the near or distant future. There is no evidence that either public or private institutions are doing enough to contain costs so that college is an option for all who are qualified. The US Department of Education estimates that every year, 400,000 qualified students fail to enroll in four-year colleges because they or their families cannot afford the bill. In this land of wealth and alleged opportunity, that’s a sad fact. But the bad news doesn’t stop there. Over the past 10 years, the average education-related debt of college graduates has jumped by 50 percent. And, thanks to our Republican-controlled national government, things are going to get even worse. Almost one-third of the overall savings projected in this year’s federal budget come as a result of putting the squeeze on educational costs, which, in effect, calls for students and their parents to pay for a large part of President Bush’s already-enacted tax cuts.

The Bush federal budget imposes a hidden tax on students who have no other choice but to borrow in order to obtain their college degrees. That’s compassionate conservatism, Bush-style. Its social effects are anything but theoretical. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown over the past 20 years, with the most-affluent Americans getting richer and the poorest of the nation growing relatively more destitute. The working and middle classes, meanwhile, shoulder a greater portion of the tax burden at the same time that they see more of their take-home pay dedicated to covering the increasing costs for health care, food, gasoline, and, yes, college tuition.

It is a sign of the government’s pathetic lack of seriousness that the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which held hearings in Boston this week, will convene only two more public sessions as it goes about its 11-month study. Think about it. A blueprint for keeping higher education internationally competitive and affordable, and only three public meetings in a projected life of less than a year. In the decades that followed World War II, access to higher education was the great engine not only of social mobility, but also of economic prosperity. Bush and the Republicans are stripping that engine clean and selling its spare parts for their political gain. With the mid-term congressional elections approaching, will the nation continue to let them get away with it?

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