Fifty years ago, capturing the “American Dream” was fairly simple. All someone had to do was find a union job, work hard, climb up the ladder and soon they had everything they needed. People stayed at the same job for 40 years and by the time they retired, they were pretty comfortable. Generation X and Y hasn’t been so lucky; the economy changed, manufacturing moved abroad, and the power of unions was shattered by Republican free-marketeers by the time we were born, so we were told education was the key to success.
Millions of kids heeded that advice and went to college, but it hasn’t end so well. We have been left with million dollars in student loan debt and college has become increasingly unaffordable. Progressive Democrats have made it their mission to fix this crisis; they realize that the only way America will be able to compete on the global market is by investing in higher education. Our party’s presidential hopefuls understand this too and on Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders, announced that he would be introducing legislation to make public college tuition-free across America.
We live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated work force in the world. That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt….Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people.They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same. [Source]
Senator Sanders’ plan, to be introduced on Tuesday, would provide tuition-free college for students at four-year schools and is modeled after many European countries. It will also “substantially lower student debt and bring down interest rates on college loans.”
President Obama has been trying to get Congress to support a measure to make community college free for all students, as well. Speaking at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota, earlier this month, the president said,”I want to lower the cost of community college to zero. We can’t afford to let striving Americans be priced out of the education they need to get ahead.”
Right now students are absolutely being “priced out.” In the last decade or so, public universities have raised tuition rates and fees to almost 50 percent in some cases. Today the New York Times reported that in-state tuition breaks are slowly disappearing. Historically, most college students have attended schools in their home state because it is much cheaper.
State universities offered huge tuition breaks for in-state students and charged the out-of-state kids more money. Unfortunately over the last decade, these state universities have realized that they could yield higher profits if they have fewer students from their state. So they have implemented policies to restrict the number of in-state students they accept.
The University of California, Berkeley, enrolled 384 fewer in-state freshmen in 2012 compared with 2000, while out-of-state American students grew by more than 300 and the number of international students increased eightfold. This happened at the same time that in-state tuition and fees increased to $13,200 from $3,964.
Senator Sanders’ plan is desperately needed. College is so expensive right now, that people like me, who only attended school for two years, are being left with more than $40,000 in debt. There are millions of us drowning in debt because we were told that if we went to school, we could be anything we wanted to be. Going to college was supposed to be the first stop in the road to prosperity, but in many cases left us in poverty and worse off than we were before. How is it productive for anyone except the big banks to have our young people enter the workforce burdened by thousands in debt?
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Republicans will allow the legislation to move forward, because they are completely uninterested in investing in high education or in the future of everyday Americans. In fact, they are systematically working to slash funding from public schools and keep our kids ignorant at a very young age, then denying them access to higher education when they grow. They know that knowledge and education are their enemies; that informed people will recognize their plots to sell America to the wealthy class for what they are, and they will stop at nothing to get their way.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.