By Phil Brown
Last week, students from around the nation mobilized in protest against sky-high tuition prices and massive student loan debt burdens in the #MillionStudentMarch movement. While there weren’t any protests in held in Nebraska, the issues the movement attempted to address are present in our state and campus as much as anywhere else.
It has become a social and political truism that the United States of America is plagued by student loan debt. The effects of debt are so widely spread among such a broad spectrum of the nation’s population, with everyone having a connection to someone suffering from debt, that the reality of debt is pretty much irrefutable.
However, viewpoints vary when it comes to the factors behind this debt and the solutions proposed to deal with it. Some say the way to avoid debt is to simply work and raise money, although this has been demonstrated to be impossible for all students. Others counsel to shun universities and attend professional programs or fore-go higher education altogether.
Some criticize the diverse required course requirements of many American universities, or the lack of focus in millennials attending college None of these viewpoints address the true demons that possess the American education system. The core of the problem students at American higher education institutions face is that of tuition. Without tuition, there would be no student debt.
American tuition as it stands today is the second-most expensive in the world. With an average tuition rate of $5,402, according to a 2014 study by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US stands only behind Chile for the most expensive tertiary education system in the universe, and far outstrips other highly-developed nations.
But the American educational landscape wasn’t always so tuition-dominated. One of the factors leading to the tuition spike in recent years has been the wholesale gutting of state university funding. A study conducted by the Dēmos organization uncovered that between 1990 and 2010, “real funding per public full-time equivalent student dropped by 26.1 percent.”
More than a quarter of state funding was slashed in the last few decades, leading to our current predicament: an entire generation of educated citizens who are crippled by loan debt. This burden of debt will have widespread socioeconomic reverberations, limiting economic freedom, reducing
home ownership, even affecting the birth rate as graduates find themselves unable to afford raising a family.
The solution to the loan debt epidemic is simple: increase public funding to universities.
And this burden should be placed not just on the federal government, but the states whose names the universities bear.
According to the University of Nebraska’s 2014-15 Total Budget, system state appropriations funding was 22.0 percent of total 2014-15 proposed budget revenue at $540,009,963, while Federal funding accounted for 21.9 percent of the total estimated revenue at $537,396,056. Tuition covers 10.4 percent of the total revenue, at $253,990,054.
Our university system is essentially a state university in name only, since the state can’t even muster up 1 percent more funding than the federal government. Perhaps the system should change their name to the Federal University at Nebraska, instead of the University of Nebraska.
The high-priced tuition model the nation has embraced by slashing education funding is untenable.
Much damage has already been done, but if states take the initiative and renew funding, and student debt amnesty is provided, those of us currently stuck in the punishing system can be saved from permanent economic impairment.