There’s a crisis in this country in higher education–and the House GOP’s reckless fiscal policies are making it worse. To pay for the rebuilding costs associated with Hurricane Katrina, House Republicans just last week passed $50 billion in budget cuts, eviscerating student loan programs, Medicaid and food stamps while simultaneously seeking to enact a five-year $57 billion tax break for millionaires and corporations. (“The beauty of taking the cuts out of Medicaid and student loan programs…is that it doesn’t reduce the flow of funds to the Republican campaign committees by a single dime,” Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson observed.)
Make no mistake: the loan cuts could be devastating for low- and middle-income students. The Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities which fought to build opposition to the GOP’s budget cuts said that New York students and their families would be looking at a $6,000 hike in costs for higher education should the GOP cuts take effect.
This assault on the poor and the middle-class comes at a low moment in higher education in general. Republicans’ fiscal policies have made college less affordable for many. And with less money available at the state and federal level, schools have had to raise tuition and impose other costs on families least equipped to bear the burden.
The New York Times recently reported that for the year starting July 2004 inflation increased only slightly, by 2.2 percent, while tuition at public universities rose by 7.1 percent (it increased by 5.9 percent at private colleges.) If you want to send a child to public university in your own state, you’ll now pay an average of $15,566 per year. If your child wants to attend a private college or university, you’re looking at an average annual cost of nearly $32,000. Predictably, the enrollment gap between rich and poor has widened in recent years.
While costs are rising, affordable student loans are getting harder and harder to find. The website insidehighered.com reported that students are relying on higher-interest private loans which saddle them with debt for many years after graduation. Colleges are also using merit-based aid as opposed to need-based tuition assistance, which traditionally has helped the neediest students afford the costs of attending college.
At the same time as costs are rising, the quality of what those costs are paying for is decreasing. Colleges are using part-time professors to teach their classes. Course size is swelling, and universities, a professor at Cornell who wrote a book about rising education costs told the Times, “are having great difficulty maintaining the quality of the education they provide.”