Eliminating tuition and debt is possible, requires student action

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COURTESY OF www.watsoncpagroup.com
COURTESY OF www.watsoncpagroup.com

By Phil Brown
OPINION EDITOR

I’ve focused on student tuition and debt in previous columns, and have hopefully made the case that they are major problems. They especially impact those of us still in school, those who will face the consequences most intimately.

The nation’s student debt burden has now passed $1.3 trillion, and according to a new “national student loan debt clock” provided by MarketWatch, it’s rising at a rate of $2726.27 per second.

It goes without saying that this will negatively affect students graduating from college with their share of this debt, even UNO students, who have less debt than many of their counter-parts from across the nation.

But it may not be as obvious when it comes to that debt burden’s effect on the economy in general. Think of it this way: is a generation with a collective $1.3 trillion in debt going to be able to purchase a home soon after graduation? How about raising a family, and all the economic investments that go along with it?

The Associated Press found that in many households, student loan payments surpass groceries in monthly expenditures. Even the $233.14 median monthly payment UNO graduates pay ten years after entering school, according to ProPublica research, is a $233.14 that isn’t spent on entertainment and restaurant industries that could use the money.

The debt burden is caused by the failure of governments to keep their spending in line with the rise in college attendance in recent years, and as I’ve discussed in columns past, has led to the advent of
tuition.

It may be too late for those of us already accumulating debt, but if the tuition model could be eliminated completely, generations to come wouldn’t find themselves saddled with economically crippling debt. It may seem a little preposterous to consider an American landscape without tuition. But that landscape isn’t as alien as it seems to Millennial ears.

Since the very beginning of pub-lic universities in the late 1800s in America, tuition-free education was a practice widely used. In fact, until the 1960s, tuition-based universities were the oddballs. Eliminating tuition, and thereby eliminating student debt, is therefore a matter of reversing the negative changes made in decades past. We know it was possible in the past.

And we know it’s possible to achieve in the present, if we look across the Atlantic. In fall of 2014, Lower Saxony became the last state in Germany to abolish student tuition fees. Tuition at German public universities is now free to anyone, including foreigners. It’s easy to say that since Germany and the United States are two vastly different nations in vastly different environments, the two situations can’t be compared. But there are some interesting similarities.

First, similarly to America, Germany’s education system is independently controlled by the individual states. While Germany has only 16 to America’s 50, the principle remains the same. Secondly, both countries share a history of tuition-free education, although Germany held out until the 1990s before introducing fees.

The key to Germany’s triumph was through student movements. Well-organized and with extraordinary perseverance, the German student unions relentlessly worked to bring about the change they needed across generations, and were ultimately triumphant.

For similar changes to be affected in America, the student population will have to put in the work them-selves. It will be hard, perhaps even impossible, to get students organized to reverse decades of decline.

But for every year that goes by without such a change being accomplished, German students will graduate college debt-free, ready to contribute to an economy without a 1.3 trillion dollar weight over it. And America will continue to pay the price.

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