Government Must Ensure Equal Educational Access

Rina Seegoolam, Columnist

Last week, lawmakers reached a compromise on spending cuts that affected some federal education programs, yet spared the Department of Education. While budget cuts seem inevitable, education needs to remain a priority that benefits from Federal State funding as well as from states.

As we all know, going to college in the United States is expensive. Tuition costs for an academic year range from $9,000 for state universities to more than $40,000 for private colleges and universities. The United States has some of the most expensive tuition fees in the world: the top five most expensive universities in the world are American. It is true that these schools offer incredible infrastructures to students such as science labs, media labs, technology services, book rental, sports facilities and a fair number of subsidized student organizations. Still, the cost remains painfully high. Many of you would be amazed at how much we pay for tuition in France. Universities’ tuition fees range from $217 to $437 for a year of undergraduate studies. It is said to be one of the lowest rates in Europe. However, tuition fees for other institutions or “Grandes Ecoles” are higher. My home school is one of them; our tuition fees rank from $780 to $13,400 depending on families’ revenue. Only a small number of students pay the maximum fee. Overall, in France, paying more than $500 is considered a lot, which seems a ridiculous amount compared to average American tuition fees. The first reason for such relatively low rates is that we don’t have campuses, and therefore don’t need as much infrastructure. The second reason is that universities are highly subsidized by the national government.

Before coming to Oberlin, I thought that paying more than $500 in college tuition fees was too much. Still, tuition depends on families’ revenue and should therefore be affordable; families who are eligible for financial aid do not pay any tuition fees. I am amazed when I see how expensive education is in the United States. The tuition at Oberlin College is $42,842 per year, without taking housing, dining, health insurance and miscellaneous fees into account. Two-thirds of Oberlin students apply for financial aid. Grants and scholarships exist, but most of this financial aid is through loans. According to The New York Times, in 2008, two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with debt from college. In 2010, graduates who took out a loan left school with an average debt of $24,000.

Borrowing money for education is the last thing a student should be expected to do. Although the world is slowly recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, it is still hard for young graduates to find a secure job right after college, let alone a job that pays well. On top of that, young graduates are left on the labor market, knowing that their first five to 10 years of work will be devoted to reimbursing their debt. How do you approach life when you are in your twenties and owe more than $24,000? Can you afford to move from your parents’ home? Can you start a business? Can you start a family? These are questions some unfortunate students will have to weigh more than others. When the presidential couple left college, they were indebted. “Michelle I know had at least $60,000,” President Obama said. “I had at least $60,000. So when we got together we had a lot of loans to pay. In fact, we did not finish paying them off until probably we’d been married for at least eight years, maybe nine.” They even needed the royalties from President Obama’s books to pay off the loan.

Of course, a college education is an invaluable tool in life. But having to borrow thousands of dollars to enroll in college is a burden that we shouldn’t be forced to carry. Too many students do not go to the university they want because they cannot afford it. Too many students are indebted for years because they wanted to get a good education. These are reasons why federal funding is more than necessary in education. Loans should be a last-resort option and should be kept at a minimum. Other types of financial aid should be provided by the federal government for people who cannot afford it.

It is true that education is primarily a state and local responsibility, but the national government needs to support their initiative and ensure equal access to higher education. Budget cuts cannot spare everything and funding in education will probably have to suffer, as illustrated by last week’s spending cuts. However, it needs to be done intelligently and responsibly so that it does not prevent young and bright students from aiming high because they do not have the financial means to do so.