Prioritize students, education by making college affordable
January 25, 2007
College affordability is big deal. Just ask my students.
I teach at a university where 75 percent of the students work to put themselves through school. The majority of students are the first generation in their families to attend college and, each day, many of them juggle school, work and family obligations. They come to the university with the profound hope that higher education will provide them knowledge, stable employment, financial security and a better life -- the dreams of college students all over the United States.
In recent days, the dreams and hopes of America's youth have been the subject of debate among lawmakers. The U.S. House recently voted to decrease the interest rate on federally subsidized loans to college students from 6.8 percent to 3.4 gradually over the next five years.
Despite criticism from some Republicans, it received bipartisan support. The bill passed 356 to 71, with 124 Republicans voting for the legislation.
Recently, both Democrats and Republicans have proposed ways to make college accessible to students, ranging from the cuts in interest rates to increased financial aid. They have also called on universities to lower their tuitions.
Between 1994 and 2004, the average price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board atpublic colleges increased by 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The increase was even higher at private institutions.
Students considering higher education can face many obstacles. Paying for college is often high on the list. Last fall the Commission on the Future of Higher Education issued a report that said that rising costs discourage students from entering college. The fear of high debt inhibits others from considering college.
But a college degree is directly correlated with higher earnings, and, in the past two decades, the difference has grown. In 1980, males with a college degree earned 19 percent more than males with a high school diploma, according to the Department of Education. By 2004, they earned 67 percent more. While the earnings of those with college degrees have increased over time, the earning of those with only a high school diploma has dropped.
Making college accessible to students is one of the best ways to invest in our nation's future. Entering the 21st century, students' access to an affordable college education must be a national priority. Democrats and Republicans must continue to work together to find creative solutions to the increasing cost of a college education.
At the beginning of each semester, when I look out at the faces looking back at me, I can't help but think about the dreams they bring with them. For our nation's sake, let's help make their dreams a reality.
Yolanda Chàvez Leyva is a historian specializing in border and Mexican American history. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.