But these days, the American Dream is virtually impossible without a college degree, and while President Obama works to make college tuition more affordable, Arizona’s Republican legislators take the opposite approach, ensuring that dream is out of reach for lower income Arizonans.
State Representative John Kavanagh introduced legislation that would require all students to pay a minimum of $2000/year toward tuition. The only exceptions are for some students who receive merit or athletic scholarships.
At first glance, that may appear to be a reasonable request. As Mr. Kavanagh states, “Given the fact that universities are continuously bragging that people with college degrees earn a half to a full million dollars more in their lifetimes, I don’t see how starting off on this more lucrative life with an $8,000 loan is going to hurt anybody.”
And he’s right, if a student graduates from college with only $8,000 in student loans, it’s not a big deal. The problem is, students rarely graduate with only $8,000 in loans, and tuition is only a portion of the overall expenses of a college education.
Why do these students graduate with so much debt? Because going to college is expensive, and it extends well beyond the tuition price tag. Anyone who has attended college in the last several decades and paid his/her own way can understand that.
I graduated from college 15 years ago, and though I had numerous academic scholarships and held several part-time jobs, I still accumulated more than $15,000 in student loan debt. Why? Because my parents weren’t rich or even middle class, and if I wanted an education, I had to go it alone.
My parents couldn’t afford to buy me a car or pay for my phone bills or even my laundry expenses. And though I maintained a meager living, I still needed to eat, still needed a roof over my head, and still needed electricity during those cold Minnesota winters.
An additional $8,000 in student loan debt would certainly have been a disincentive for me to attend college. And keep in mind, I was there 15 years ago. Today, lower income students have an even tougher road to navigate as the costs for rent, food, books, and lab fees have gone up considerably. If I was back in that situation, I’m not sure I would be able to obtain a four-year degree.
Though it is true that most graduates will earn more money over the course of his/her lifetime, it is also true most do not earn sizable paychecks after graduation. That takes time. And in this economy, just finding a job after college can be a challenge.
But those aren’t the only reasons I oppose Rep. Kavanagh’s misguided bill. As a resident of this state, I’d like to live in a place that values education for all, not just the privileged few. I’d like to believe that an educated populace would turn out educated leaders capable of solving complex problems. Arizona is in dire need of problem-solving leaders.
Only one-fourth of this state’s population has a college degree. One-fourth. That puts us in the bottom third among states, but worse still is our dismal ranking when comparing the number of high school graduates who move on to college. We rank 45th.
But what about our spending on higher education? Could it be that we spend significantly more than other states, and this is why our lawmakers wish to spend even less? Not even close. We rank near the bottom in higher education funding, and since 2008 the state has slashed funding a whopping 50 percent.
But those statistics mean little to individuals such as Rep. Kavanagh and his Republican co-sponsors. It appears Kavanagh’s aiming for last place — last place in student funding, last place in numbers of educated adults. This, he says, will save the state money. Except that he’s wrong on that, too.
Our state pays the price for inadequate education funding. We pay the price when technology and other high salary businesses turn away from Arizona in favor of states with a more highly educated workforce. We pay the price when our residents pay lower taxes because they earn less. We pay the price when intelligent and talented young adults choose universities outside of Arizona because they cost significantly less. And we the price when intelligent and talented individuals are not allowed to realize the American Dream because they were born into lower income families.
Representative Kavanagh’s bill is yet another example of how Arizona’s Republican leaders fail to understand long-term consequences of legislation or complex policy decisions. Their ideological positions may fare well with ideological voters, but those shortsighted decisions will and are costing this state. In the end all Arizona residents lose as legislators continue to dumb down our state and thumb their noses at education.