Shifting Responsibilities, Shifting Debt

Weekly Blog Post, David Gardner 10/13/14

Dr. Goldrick-Rab’s testimony to the Senate HELP Committee in 2013 demonstrates clearly the shift in education funding from a shared responsibility to a private, market-competitive based one. Her story of a student who was left hopeless and indebted without a degree, as well as that of other students like Ms. Brooks in the testimony, shows that lack of information tied with a profound increase in private cost responsibility, has riddled Americans with debt, and made the choice of obtaining a college degree a dangerous one.

A theme of the other readings, as well as Mr. Senack’s testimony to the US Senate, is lack of access to loan counseling and financial aid counseling. Students at the hearing demonstrated that there is rarely a comprehensive review of what students can afford, and how best to finance their education to maximize resources available to them — most often it seems to come when decisions have already been made that are not optimal for the students. The WICHE report proposes a system of a Shared Responsibility Model, to better coordinate state contributions with federal and individual contributions. The system would ideally identify the five major funders of education, and suggest an appropriate state award. However, the Baum and Ma article shows the challenge of identifying what a ‘student contribution’ is, even taking into account parents subsidizing the private contribution. Each student, even in the same income group and location, faces unique challenges to financing an education. Savings, working while attending college, and a variety of family contexts make a universal system for calculating expected family contribution problematic.

The readings held this theme that lack of consistent information is a problem, and lack of efficient funding systems is also a problem, especially given the rise in the contributions students are increasingly expected to make. As well, I found the point Dr. Goldrick-Rab made profound, that the argument that price = quality is becoming widespread and harming Americans through increased loan debt (even at our institution, where we are not at a ‘market level’ and face tuition increases because of this notion).

Also, I appreciated when Dr. Goldrick-Rab identified the harm the term ‘non-traditional’ causes, in that it inaccurately paints the majority of students in the US who would be viewed as ‘non-traditional.’ I was concerned that in the setup of this hearing, it seems there were many stories critical to the status of education in this country that were not well represented. Fortunately, Dr. Goldrick-Rab was able to identify some of these, but it is upsetting that the stories of so many Americans who were unable to complete an education, or ended up bankrupt as a result of the decision to attend school, were absent. Finally, I’m sure this is not intentional, but as a side comment it’s odd/disappointing that most of the Senator’s chairs were empty in the hearing.

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