Monday, December 1, 2008

Higher Education in Deep Trouble

Keeping All Students in Higher Education: Tuition Reduction and Forgiveness is a Must for the First 100 Days Agenda

by Phil E. Benjamin

Across the country practically every higher education student, along with their parents, are evaluating their continuation in school. This is taking place in private as well as public universities and colleges [including community colleges.]

This interruption in class attendance could be another disaster coming from the financial collapse in the US. Yet, you hear very little about it. The basic living standards of our people are in deep trouble: health, livable wage jobs, pension and social security, home heating and all forms of education. Nothing escapes the crisis.

Public Colleges and Universities

State universities and city colleges across the country are facing radical governmental increases in the tuition being required for their students. Every state budget is in deep trouble, i.e., millions and for the larger states Billions in debt. Under the often-phony phrase called a "shared responsibility," education is taking draconian cuts.

These tuition increases are on top of the disastrous financial straits that many of these same students' families are facing through personal and parental job layoffs, hours being reduced including reduction below the regular 40 hours a week and overtime; and, the increasingly familiar regular family crises like medical and hospital bills.

And, now with employers on the retreat from hiring part-timers, often college and university students, and the crisis is further aggravated. Part-time hiring is radically down in retail stores for the holiday period, a period of time which normally retailed get between 30 to 40% of their annual revenues. The part-time job crisis is already upon these students and families.

Of course, come the summer of 2009 when summer employment is sure to be down, the crisis will deepen.

Public higher education is the cornerstone of having a society and political/economic system that along with health and housing should be a right not a privilege. Not the least of which is an educated population keeps that up with the latest innovations and educational programs. It is out of these basic institutions that working class and unemployed workers can send their children to schools and also attend themselves.

The hiking of tuition, i.e., making higher education into a Wall Street moneymaker, took a turn for the worse during the 1976/77 economic crisis. For example, in NYC, the City of New York when a Democratic Party mayor, Abe Beame, imposed tuition at the City University of New York, for the first time. This foot in the door is now wide open.

Reagan and his ultra right administration took this direction and ran with it. Reaganomics sent word out that don't look to the federal treasuries for affordable loan programs. On the contrary, borrowing students will be treated just like another borrower. Reagan said the market should decide….meaning, higher education was for the deserving; not working class people.

Tuition rates from California, the famed University of California system, to New York where the State University of New York and City University of New York exist, have skyrocketed over the past 20 years. The UC system tuition costs have put higher education in deep peril for tens of thousands of working class and national minority students, especially Mexican Americans.

Before the current crisis, even with those increases, many, if not all working class students were able to somehow matriculate and gain a degree.

Intricate tuition loans systems, scholarships, grants, and lower rates for those who could show that their finances were not large enough to pay the going rate took place. For those students and their families who could navigate those complicated waters, attending and graduating was sort of possible.


Private Schools

The tuition at private universities and colleges was always out of reach for working class families and even most so-called middle strata families. But, many of these education institutions would offer, the most intelligent, tested students, scholarships and some lower tuition programs.

And, to satisfy Affirmative Action requirements for these universities and colleges who accept federal monies, and they all do, each of them offer scholarships. Over the past few years these scholarship programs have dramatically diminished.

The Ivy League schools and others seeking to be seen as those kinds of schools will be hard pressed to maintain these schools for there own upper middle-class and rich/wealthy clientele let alone for scholarship and affirmative action students.

So, the "open window" to these institutions will be closed in a very short while; if not already closed.

Public Higher Education Our Main Hope

The public higher education student is in deep trouble. And, soon, given the state and city government cutbacks, they will be in deeper trouble. NY State has already announced it intention to increase tuition by $600 a year. This will price even more students out of higher education, especially working class and nationally oppressed students. Federal action must step in.

For returning veterans from war, public higher education is the only avenue to travel. They must be part of any higher education strategy by the New Administration.


The accumulated tuition debt by all students seeking to improve themselves and to work to make their contribution is a national disgrace.

In the past election, all of the television, radio and computer airways were filled with great pride on how great it was that young people were involved in the national election. It's about time to repay these and other young people with:

A Tuition Forgiveness Program that commit students to repay their debts with public service that truly benefits the country.

And, a Tuition Payment Program, before the start of matriculation, that students can access and they will commit themselves to public service following graduation.


This kind of tuition forgiveness program already exists in the field of medicine and public health. It is the NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE CORPS.

The Republicans have revised and cutback this Program to make it less attractive to perspective students, but that can be reversed. In fact, few current or perspective undergraduate students ever heard of it. A massive public information program will be needed.

For example, there is a dire need for so-called Primary Care Physicians, which are docs who serve on the front lines of health service care. They do the diagnostic care initial care for patients. Heretofore, with medical students graduating with massive debt [From Private Schools, $140,000; and Public Schools, $120,000], they are forced into specialty care where the big bucks are. It is that simple. That has to change and it can.

Expansion of the NHSC, immediately, can bring a new class of medical [physicians and nurses] and public health students into service in just 4 years, and, in fact, medical students can do their clinicals in just two years.

Of course there are countless other National Service jobs waiting in all forms of public education; community social work; and, similar areas of desperate need.

The political party that takes this step will have a generation of people deeply committed to its future.

This is just the first attempt to develop this area of policy. The fate of historical Black Colleges, for example, is of great concern. Your comments are most welcome.