Disinvestment In Higher Education And The Student Loan Debt Crisis

On the Backs of Students and Families: Disinvestment in Higher Education and the Student Loan Debt Crisis

Executive Summary:
The United States faces the challenge of dealing with a massive and growing educational debt burden, with more than $1 trillion in debt being carried by 37 million people with educational loans. The challenges posed are not only economic—with billions of dollars going toward servicing debt instead of being used to purchase homes, start families or simply have a night on the town—but are moral as well. The promise of higher education, which has historically been a vehicle for social mobility and, in these times, is considered necessary for a decent job, is becoming out of reach for those facing economic hardship and, increasingly, for members of the middle class. Today, many students face a stark choice: go to college and acquire a mountain of debt that will come due right after graduation, or forgo college altogether. More over, this choice is most common among those who stand to gain the most from higher education: the economically disadvantaged and people of color. This is a challenge that must be addressed. However, the problem of massive educational debt cannot be solved without confronting the other challenges that beset our system of higher education. At the forefront of these problems, as detailed in this report, is the massive and ongoing disinvestment from public higher education that is happening in the vast majority of states. This continued withdrawal of state financial support:

•Drives tuition cost increases, and hence educational debt, without necessarily improving quality.
•Decreases the amount of resources necessary to help students gain access to, persist in and complete their college education, compounding the difficulties imposed by various accountability regimes.
•Decreases the amount of need-based aid available for the neediest students, as institutions steer scarce resources toward students who will help pad a school’s measured outcomes.
•Increases the search for ways to deliver higher education on the cheap with technological fixes of dubious educational value.
•Provides fertile ground for exploitative for-profit education providers who prey on those who are unable to access public higher education.

There is a path forward, one that can be pursued by students, faculty and staff, and community members working together on the principles of: treating higher education as a public good, embracing and expanding the diversity within the institutions and among the people in higher education, recognizing the important role government can play in making sure a college education remains affordable and accessible, and committing to providing the resources necessary for students to achieve their educational goals. Based on these principles, this report makes recommendations for policies that will:

•Relieve the debt burden for current borrowers.
•Promote debt-free higher education for current and future students.
•Enhance state funding for public higher education.
•Prioritize academic needs in the budgets of colleges and universities.
•Eliminate the fraud and abuse that allow borrowers to become trapped in debt.

Undoubtedly, this is an ambitious agenda; it will require all advocates for high-quality higher education to work together in order to make progress. This is a call for a movement to achieve these goals. They must be achieved if our nation is to have a prosperous economy, a healthy democracy, and a just society.

Click here to read the entire report.


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