As a student who attended a tuition-free city college in NYC and a private, tuition-heavy graduate school university in the Midwest, I have experienced the cost of higher education from both sides.
And let me tell you as a middle class kid, one side is A LOT more comfortable than the other.
So I was more than thrilled when this week Pres. Biden announced a plan to provide $10,000-$20,000 in debt forgiveness to roughly 43 million Americans drowning in student loans.
It’s not as generous a plan as I would like (Note: We’ll get to that in a moment) but it’s a start. It also seems fair that these breaks are capped to individual incomes of $125,000 per year and in two-income families $250,000 per year.
I also figured, quite wrongly as it turns out, that the vast majority of Americans would be behind this.
I mean, it’s hard enough to get out of college and pry your way into the job market but imagine doing it being so deeply in debt at such a young age?
You don’t even get make the mistake of taking a frivolously expensive trip, overpaying for some crappy used means of transportation or impulse buying some gold/diamond something or other.
Or maybe you do that or worse, as young people are wont to do, and it makes everything that much more horrible.
How much more horrible can the world seem in your late teens or early twenties than it ever did?
I don’t want to even think about that.
Granted, I got my B.A. at Queens College, CUNY in the 1970s when it cost exactly $69.25 tuition per semester. I remember the figure well because I had to pay for that AND my books with my part-time job and was damn proud of that.
Especially because it left me room to squander extra money on big platform shoes to make me look taller, and in my mind much more desirable, to whatever I was trying to attract at the time.
Those shoes, alas there were three or four pairs, proved to be the first of many financial mistakes I would make since they netted nothing in the romance department and would be hopelessly out of style, nee useless, within a year.
But at 20 years old, at least I had fun with them and the very occasional bag of bad grass I managed to purchase and pay for on my own when I split it with a friend.
But let’s not digress to the good old days that I only wish I knew were as good as they were when I was living through them.
The point is, all these decades and experiences later I very wrongly assumed the vast majority of adults in this country, having been young and likely financially strapped and dumb the way I once was, would embrace the idea, if not the details, of Biden’s new plan to give college students and the families that manage to put up with them, just a touch of a break.
Well, it’s not the first or even 10 millionth time I’ve been wrong about my fellow Americans. And clearly, if history is any indication, it won’t be the last.
The sheer hysteria over supporting the education of our young (Note: A $1.6 trillion debt forgiveness as opposed to the $2 trillion plus in tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that contributed to the US deficit) sent shock waves out across the country, especially among members of the GOP.
I won’t quote them all, but the basic gist was Why should I have to pay for your education; Maybe you should learn to manage your money better; and my favorite, I PAID MY LOANS, NOW YOU PAY YOURS, FREELOADER!
So, my first thought:
But I censored myself and instead posted the following on Facebook and Twitter:
If you’re so small minded that you are having a tantrum over young people having some of their college debt forgiven, you don’t deserve all the great things this next generation will do. And you’re a selfish assh-le.
My husband publicly jibed me for blithely calling people I don’t know A-holes on social media but at the end of the day he realizes this was harmless compared to what I wanted to say and still could be saying.
There is no irony lost on me that we both work for a private college that charges a lot more tuition than I paid. But it is one that also offers A LOT more scholarship money than most schools do, and most especially did in my day.
This is why the Biden plan is a start to a more just world when learning at the college and university level doesn’t feel out of reach when you’re not wealthy.
I say feel out of reach because lots of students these days who go to college and beyond do so knowing it is a given they will be moderately or perhaps severely in debt.
Well, it is a given – like a not-yet out short-ish gay kid buying 3-4 pairs of platform shoes he couldn’t afford back in the 1970s, but nowhere near as embarrassing.
Most adults nowadays do NOT get just how much the financial realities of where they once were as college kids have changed since they were in school.
So rather than quote a lot of general statistics, here’s a simpler and more personal example of how it’s different.
Back in the mid-seventies it cost me $138.50 for one year’s tuition at Queens College. The cost now, in 2022, is $7538.00 per year.
Without factoring in living expenses and books, materials, etc. that’s a more than 5300% increase!
I made $4.25 per hour, almost double the minimum wage at the time, working at a part-time job typing health insurance claims into what was then a very, very early and large computer terminal.
I can’t say how well I did (Note: Not very but I was game) but my pay for an 18-hour week was $76.50. I had my yearly tuition, books, etc. covered in less than a month of take home pay.
Minimum wage today in NYC is $15 per hour. So let’s say a college kid gets lucky and makes $25 per hour (Note: Good luck!) close to twice the minimum. That’s $450 per week before taxes.
Do you know how long it will take that kid to cover tuition for two semesters? That would be more than EIGHTEEN MONTHS after taxes are taken out.
So it takes today’s college student at the same place and location I was at EIGHTEEN TIMES longer than me to pay off just one year of school at one of the less expensive but decent colleges in the state.
And this is WITHOUT food, room, board or….. Certainly it doesn’t factor in platform shoes or even a bottle of wine or beer or anything else (Note: Ahem).
THE. DECK. IS. STACKED.
No matter how imperfect my math or comparisons might seem to you.
Tell your friends, relatives and followers who don’t like the idea of giving the next generation some loan forgiveness to save their temper tantrums for something that counts.
Like the future of democracy.
And if that doesn’t work, see every edited curse word above and add many more of your own.
Because they will all deserve it.