Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Educational Inequities Can Trump College Debt Concerns
By Mark Moran

I am drowning, figuratively of course. Like many college students, a riptide of loans is sweeping me under. Loans that (despite my mastering of self delusion) will one day have to be paid back. At this moment, while the waves of debt crash upon me, it seems so very easy to play the “woe is me” role.

However, I’m one of the lucky ones. Like many students, attending private universities who are racking up a bill larger than every Spring break drinking binge bar tab combined; I am middle class. Both my parents were college educated, I went to a high school where the majority of my peers pursued a higher education, and I grew up knowing that I would one day be able to attend college. This isn’t the case for many of our nations children.

Unlike my parents and other middle to upper class parents, the word college is not in some moms and dads vocabulary. Their children’s academic experience wasn’t like mine. Many of these people’s children live in working class families; attend schools where the only thing lower than their curriculum is the graduation rate, and the idea of attending college is incondensable.

While middle class students bemoan rising college tuition, many working class students’ dreams of college are squashed years before they send out their first college application. Why is it that there is such high percentage of dropouts in lower class high schools? One reason: our nation’s educational inequity.

It is a fact that poor neighborhoods contain dilapidated schools with below average teachers, few educational resources, and a learning environment that is more likely to resemble a crowded prison rather than a school. When walking through an area, for example Brooklyn, it is obvious to anyone that as the real estate value goes down so does the quality of the schools. Why is this? Doesn’t our nation promise an equal education for all? One word: property taxes.

Public schools are primarily funded by the local property taxes, and as the value of property decreases so does the amount paid in taxes. Hence, there is less money for the education of certain neighborhood’s children. These kids never even have a chance to accrue the college debt their richer counterparts complain about because college is not a logical option. Often, these students think graduating high school is not a logical decision. Surprisingly, these kids are right.

In the book, “Savage Inequalities”, author Jonathan Kozol explains why staying in high school and attending college doesn’t make sense for low-income children. Kozol says that unlike middle and upper class students, these children aren’t worried about who they will go to prom with. They’re worried where their next meal is coming from. The need to survive often takes precedent over the desire to succeed. A child dropping out of high school to start working allows another paycheck to enter these poor families homes. Going off to college seems insane. For a poor family, the price of college is far beyond their means and the possibility of loans is laughable.

Besides the financial aspects of attending college, many of these students are not even close to the academic level of a college classroom. As Kozol writes, these children’s low academic standing is not due to any deficiency of theirs. Rather, their under-funded schools and overwhelmed teachers have not been able to keep them on the college track.

By the time a lower income student reaches high school they are often years behind. The high school they attend, which is just as under-funded and over-crowded as their primary schools, often has accepted their students’ continuation of the cycle of poverty and offers a far below average curriculum. Sadly, these kids fall to the low expectations set for them.

With an extremely deficient education and the knowledge that even with loans, college is financially not an option, like the adults around them, these kids give up on themselves.

While college students are complaining about the interest on their loans, they should be thankful that the word college is in their vocabulary. College should be an equal opportunity source of education. To do this, we need to reform the institutions that help kids get there. College debt is a middle and upper class problem it seems. The lower class cannot even convince a bank to give them a loan. Either way it doesn’t matter because their kids aren’t ready for college.

The key to success is education. This key shouldn’t allotted to a privileged few, but rather, to anyone willing to learn. Also, everyone, despite ethnic or economic background, should be prepared to receive this key. With a key in every child’s hand, our nation could really be as great as it claims to be.
Overdue Revisions To America’s Financial Aid Program
By Aimee La Fountain

According to the Washington Post, the average graduate of a four-year college takes out $20,000 in student loans for public school and $40,000 for private schools. In response to this growing problem the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would reduce loan interest for students by approximately $30 per month. This, however, is only the first in a series of actions that need to take place in order to properly reform America’s college assistance program.

In a country as rich as America, we should be dedicating more federal funding to aid worthy students. By doing so, we are investing in the future welfare of our country. Other countries already treat higher education as a high priority. There is no reason that our country shouldn’t progress in the same direction. Too many students today who have trouble affording college are spread thin trying to manage working while also attending college. Students who are funding their own education dedicate much of their day to class, followed by work, and come home exhausted to a pile of homework. Such a grueling schedule makes it challenging to do well on assignments.

Conversely, when hard working students have the proper amount of time to dedicate to their studies their work will reflect that. This, in turn, will translate into a work force of well-trained professionals in the future. Our government should be rewarding students’ academic excellence. Any career involves compensation for one’s labor. The college process should be no different. If students don’t have financial support to go to college it makes the decision to attend college, or which school to attend more difficult.

Our federal government should also provide more non-partisan financial aid advisors to help students in need of loans through the process. Travis Macy, a student taking out loans said, “I regret not knowing more about [factors such as] interest rates, repayment options, and loan consolidation.” It is unrealistic to expect inexperienced teenagers to be informed of all the intricate stipulations of fiscal bureaucracy. This is why many adults hire help when filing their taxes. The role of our government is to help students attain the education to become professionals in their field instead of capitalizing on students’ financial vulnerability.

The loan process itself needs to be simplified. Student Vin Buttaro said, “The loan application process makes going for a loan very discouraging. It takes me almost a month to a month and a half of calling up and paperwork after I fill out the application that I finally get word that I can go to school.” Students already go through enough pains to get into college and successfully complete undergraduate studies. They shouldn’t be punished because they need loans to go to school.

Students who put in the work and earn acceptance into college should be deciding on an education that is best for them and this decision shouldn’t be influenced by which school is affordable. Attaining a college degree is an exceptional accomplishment in this world. And it is the responsibility of our government to do everything in its power to help students reach that achievement.
Pay Or Die?
By Julie Buntin

While recently perusing the Internet in search of helpful tips and schemes for dealing with college debt (a problem impending on my future with lightening speed), I uncovered a helpful segment from an article posted on www.nextstudent.com. According to the website, if you have a federal student loan (I have three so far), it is only possible to have your loan debt discharged or reduced under a handful of special circumstances.

The first of these is death or permanent disability. Insert image of college student spraying a mouthful of water across the room in a torrent of painful surprise. What a cinch. I’ll just kill myself, and the trillions of pounds of debt weighing me down will vanish into thin air, like a lovely dream.

Just to be fair, I’ll include the website’s additional suggestions for eliminating those hefty loans. Filing for bankruptcy (this one isn’t highly touted, apparently bankruptcy courts rarely excuse student loans), the closure of your academic institution before the attainment of a degree (uh, what? Thanks world, now I don’t have to pay back loans for a degree I didn’t receive), and finally, working in designated public school service positions (blackmail anyone?).

A little contribution to that last option—working as a bombarded, disrespected high school teacher in the Bronx for two years often only entitles you to a grant of around five grand, intended for use toward college loans. If you need that money for a mortgage payment, a new baby, or a hospital bill after one of your students’ trips you going down the stairs, you’re flush out of luck. And, if you’re among the average college graduates, you have around $20,000 worth of debt anyway, so a cool $5,000 isn’t going to get you that far.

If I had known the phrase “going to college” could be literally interpreted as “chaining yourself to a money vacuum for the rest of your life, severely reducing your chances of achieving nirvana,” I might have skipped college all together. Currently, I entertain the idea of dropping out, living off the rest of my loan money, and spending six hours a day in the NYC public library. I’d certainly learn more, and public libraries are free!

Bohemian dreams aside, living in New York City provides an all too concrete reminder of the necessity of a college degree. Imagine the look on an interviewer’s face if I applied for a job teaching college English, my credentials simply; complete knowledge of 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th century literature, several unpublished works on Dante, Plato, and Issac Babel, passion for learning and teaching. Passion, which got many liberal arts majors into this position from the get-go, is no longer a hallmark of American success. In fact, that loaded, treasured word may just be the new hallmark of American debt.

Somewhere during the course of this brave nation’s turbulent history, college became first highly valued, and then (like all things desirable) highly priced. The lengths students are willing to go in order to attend that shiny Ivy League (I can’t help but think of the college market as a car dealership) are often at the sacrifice of learning and academic growth. What percentage of a student’s college choice revolves around projected volume of learning, and how much revolves around the institution’s reputation (and along with that, projected income)?

One thing is sure. My generation will graduate, if not with a thorough knowledge of whatever they majored in, at the very least with a vivid understanding of what it means to pay, pay, pay.
Drawing Out The Assignment
By Parisa Esmaili

The assignment, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As second-graders eagerly pull out their colored pencils and crayons from their clear pencil boxes, they fill their blank manila paper with dreams of becoming doctors, astronauts, actors and actresses, singers, and, yes, even some young aspiring politicians. Flash-forward 12-15 years and you’ll find many of those eager hooligans questioning whom they want to be versus how much they can afford to be.

Thanks to the rise and intention of “making education important” since the late 1970s and early 1980s, colleges have continued to jack up the prices of already hefty school tuitions.

For example, since 1990, expenses of a private four-year college have risen 51.1 percent, according to YouthNoise.com. As for public colleges, the expenses have risen almost 60 percent. By the time students receive that gold emblem special matted degree stamped, signed, and sealed, many of them will be $20,000 or more in debt. If they can afford to make it that far. Those numbers do not even begin to encompass the idea of law, medical, or graduate school.

I remember being in second grade and asked the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer? A lawyer. So here I was drawing, at seven years old, a picture of me dressed in business attire and my mouth wide open. Slightly above my mouth was a “talking bubble” with dark lines up and down that emphasized tone, quality, and aggression.

I had dreams of being a lawyer since I was four, until I hit the age of practicality and realistically affording law school. Not to mention, as I got older I realized the patience, diligence, and audacity it took to be a lawyer. I definitely did not fit that “role.”

For in-state residents at public law schools, students are paying 267 percent more than in 1990, according to information by John Sebert, consultant on legal education to the American Bar Association. For nonresidents, public law school costs have soared by 197 percent. Private tuition since 1990 has risen by 130 percent. Tuition in 2004 at public law schools for in-state residents averaged $11,860 and $21,905 for nonresidents, and at private schools, tuition was $26,952.

I have a few friends who have changed their majors at least three times since they began college simply because they will not make enough money in whatever profession they would pursue after graduating. They often tell me the amount of money they took out in loans for three years nearly triples the amount they would make in their first years after college. There is no way they could afford to pay for the education in order to have the profession. I also have friends who changed their majors because what they wanted to be is feasibly impractical. Even with loans, scholarships, grants, and the money they save personally, graduate school and becoming an astronaut or doctor will forever remain a dream.

We were taught to dream big, shoot for the stars, or that we could be whatever we want, as long as we put our mind to it. Whoever decided that these thought provoking, awe inspiring ideas would be the “words of wisdom” to pass along through our years of education got it all wrong. Nowadays, the words of wisdom should be, “shoot for what you can afford,” or, “you can be whatever you want, just as long as you make a lot of money doing it.”
College Debt: The Line Between Enough And Not Enough
By Laura Matteri

College debt looms over the lives of millions. It can range from a few thousand to an amount worth a four-year tuition. Aggravation and worry continues to grow as the years fly by, and it seems that the payments will never cease.

In order to fulfill society’s strict expectations of today’s youth, each student who begins as an undergraduate must pay the thousands of dollars for each year for their education. Whether or not the student continues to graduate programs does not make the payment plans any easier.

Suddenly, the minute we graduate from high school, the state is done paying for our education. Unless some sort of consecutive 4.0 student applies for scholarship, the school seems to need more from the applicant in order to give some financial relief.

I, as many others, found that I had to turn my childhood into a soap opera saga in order to get some sort of scholarship. I wasn’t a 4.0 student in high school, so I took a different way into the school’s “heart.” Diversity issues. I wrote essay after essay applying for different scholarships telling my childhood story as an adoptee growing up in a rural, white community. For some reason, this does not register as grounds for receiving money for tuition.

Society leads us to believe that immediately following our high school graduation, we are to be enrolled in and attending a four-year university or college that will lead to the degree in our life’s interest. However, this school that we choose has certain standards to reach in order to be “accepted” by this invisible rulebook that society has created for its youth.

Ivy league, “well-known” colleges are the best choice you can make. Actually, the most expensive, the better. Somehow I feel that society wants us to be in debt. Tens of thousands of dollars are taken out in loans by students and possibly their parents. America thrives on its youth and the future of the country, but how can it survive when the coming generations are drowning in the debt that has been created by our own government?

I feel that since there is such an expectation for students to continue their education past high school, there should be grants and programs set up state by state to pay for their youth to attend college. If it is so necessary for further education, there shouldn’t be any need for the student to pay for it. The money being spent on wars and wasteful things should be put towards paying for the country’s youth to be educated.

America’s reputation as a rich and thriving country will go down the drain as the “echo boomers” struggle to live middle class lives while paying off college debt. Enough is enough. Expectations to follow our dreams and make this country proud of its citizens are just a crock if there isn’t any aid available.

If our tax dollars pay for approximately 14 years (if you count preschool and kindergarten), why can’t they keep paying for college? We are all well aware of the amount of money taken out of our paychecks. Taxes from half of the American citizens could make a huge dent in aiding the needy future of this country.

Ridiculous standards and hideous tuition costs are pressuring our youth more and more every year. As we take the next step in our lives, are we walking the path to a successful future? Or is it a path to a hidden trap that straps us in struggle and anxiety? Either way, it seems that we are all on this path and somewhere, we hope, there is a clearing ahead.
Is This Grueling Process Worth It?
By Lindsay Cooper

College debt is an extremely frustrating and draining situation millions of people have dealt with and continue to cope with in their present lives. In my interviews with several students and administrators on the subject, it appears that the process of college debt is experienced quite differently depending on the individual. Some students seem to have it easier than others with little debt to pay off due to the collection of grants and scholarships they received from their colleges.

Other students who graduated from college undergo the endless and even fearful process of paying back an overwhelming amount of loans. To me, this situation represents another one of those happenings in life where some are lucky and others are not so lucky. As some who does not yet need to start paying off college loans, it all seems somewhat sad. Just thinking about college debt scares the hell out of me.

Though I heard about the exasperating experiences of other students and even attempted to try and fully comprehend their situations, I realize I will never completely understand the “nightmare” until I experience it on my own, which will be happening in the near future.

I am not trying to say that money has never been an issue for me, but more than ever I think it is important as a young adult, despite one’s economic background, to be wise in money matters. This is what I am painfully learning as I constantly receive unknown calls from debt collectors all over the United States. However, when you are a full-time student without a year-round job it is extremely hard and annoying to come up with the money to pay off your bills on a weekly basis.

However, I find a way to do it and it is so nice to take that breath of relief when one witnesses their massive hole of debt disappearing slowly. I have realized through witnessing and experiencing many financial hardships the importance of financial independence starting as early as possible.

I think the looming situation of college debt can detract from one’s intended fulfilling life experiences whether in post college life and/or graduate school. What happens to the highly driven student who lands in an excellent graduate program but is unable to invest their best abilities in their work because they are too busy paying off loans from college?

What happens to the “dream life” of other college graduate students who want to buy or rent an apartment and maybe even start a family but are unable to do so because they are dealing with too much debt? In analyzing the reality of the situation, I cannot help but ask myself if the life sacrifices we are making are even worth it in the end. Who knows. Hopefully, I’ll have an answer when I go through it all.
What We Want, We Can No Longer Afford
By Ben Peryer

It has become a topic with which we have become very familiar -- college debt.

College students are faced with a busy school and work schedule only to soon enter a work force even more demanding of your time. What about the income? Well, that will be going towards paying off the debt of your college years starting at $20,000. And that is the best-case scenario.

Aren’t your college years supposed to be the times in your life when your biggest dilemma is whether or not to go to the house party around the block or test out that fake ID? Papers meant to be blown off and the most experience concerned gaining what was within the sheets of your bed.

That’s what I thought at least. Then I got to college and the stresses I had not prepared for kicked in. Stresses over a busy and demanding work schedule to make the rent and an internship, or a mock career as I will call it, consumes every waking minute. You know, the things you are supposed to worry about after college.

Students today have more on their plate than ever. The level of competition in the real world, that so-called world post-graduation, is more apparent to students than ever before. And they are smart to start sooner than later. But are they ready?

Let me quickly answer that question before it's assumed otherwise. Yes.

The best candidates for jobs, in my opinion are the ones with baby faces. This is perhaps the reason why my first internship in a professional public relations office, no one was over age 30.

With this, dare I say to the co-ed critics, high level of excellence among college students comes an even higher level of responsibilities, a word synonymous with stress.

For instance, take Ryan Campshire, a 20-year-old sophomore college student at New York University. He is an outstanding student with an internship worth boasting about, the assistant to the Director of Public Relations at Versace. Ryan’s resume glitters and his future is bright, however his wallet is empty.

With no financial help and no time for a better paying job than the admissions office at the university, he has taken out loans in order to stay in college and pay his rent. That number has become out of his control and he is considering leaving the expensive city of New York.

Why is it that students like Ryan cannot have both the time for school and the money is demands? In my opinion, the one thing most deserved by one person is education. This has now become the one thing no one can seem to afford.
Financial Aid And Its Frustrations
By Jennifer Rozasnky

A few weeks after sending in my FASFA student aid form a lovely letter issued to me arrived in the mail from the Pennsylvania department of financial aid saying I will not be receiving any help from my home state. But why did they not help me? It clearly is a nice little letter stating if you are attending any school in any of the states surrounding Pennsylvania such as, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, they will not help at all.

From the state of New York they actually helped me a little but hardly at all, claiming my Dad makes too much of an income which, if that were the case I would be living in a beautiful apartment instead of a closet and driving a Hummer not a Sunfire.

Within the same week of receiving the letter from Pennsylvania, I received a call from my aunt saying that my cousin received full financial aid because she is 18 and has a baby. So, congratulations you got pregnant out of wedlock we will fully help you with your school tuition.

Hearing news like this really frustrated me and made me almost want to go to a sperm bank or get hit by a fancy car hoping whoever was driving had a lot of money to pay for my tuition. The reality is it is not cheap to become well educated and get a successful job. There is a price to pay.

After interviewing Christina Bennett, the Marymount Manhattan College financial aid advisor, I realized there are many people like me. That made me feel better, but at the same time, it still makes me angry that I’m struggling with financial aid, but still getting good grades, while my cousin in Texas is having such an easy time with financial aid, but getting lower grades than me. Or that all my “richer” cousins got it well made and again I’m struggling.

However, with all of these frustrations my parents do an outstanding job of reassuring me that I’m doing an excellent job in school, and that living in New York and being away from my small, hick hometown, and getting some fabulous opportunities.

Although, financial aid has not been that great in my world I do see people like my friend Theresa who receives financial aid because her mom is a single mother and she shows that she is very appreciative for it, and knows she is lucky.

The situation that bothers me the most is seeing people like my cousin take advantage of it and show no gratitude, and do not realize how lucky they are for getting the help that they do. I realize not everyone is like this, but there will always be those “bad seeds” that make it look bad for everyone else.

In the end, I feel grateful for the extremely little amount I do get. But I wish when the FASFA department looks into people’s “financial need” that they take a closer look and make sure they are giving it to the right person who is going to do good, and not to someone who is going to blow it off like.
College Students Get Schooled In Real World Debt
By Amanda Ingersoll

Debt-to-income what? Debt-to-income ratio. The financial aid term that refers to how much money you make versus how much you owe. What does it have to do with your education? If you or your parents are like the majority of middle class Americans, already swimming in credit card debt, that number determines how easy or difficult it will be for you to be approved for college loans.

For most students today, the question is not whether or not to take out a loan for college, but rather how much the loan will be. It’s a foregone conclusion these days that you will graduate college with a substantial amount of debt. Yes, there are still those trust fund kids out there and those who receive full-ride scholarships to the college of their dreams, but since they are so few and far between (and the fact that my resentment for their mere existence runs deep) I’ll pretend for now that they don’t exist.

My first semester at a liberal arts college in Manhattan cost me a small fortune. My circumstances were not that of the traditional aged college student (27, divorced, living on my own) but what I had in common with my soon to be classmates was my desperate need for money to fund my tuition and my living expenses, in what is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

In January 2005 I borrowed $15,000 in college loans from Citibank. I, like many others applying for college, still needed my parents to co-sign for my loans. Already swimming in debt from a failed business and failed marriage, you could safely say my credit was less than perfect. But I was able to swing the loan and move to the big city to start my life anew. At roughly $600 per credit, a full load of classes (15 credits per semester) put approximately a $10,000 dent into my loan. Figure in a studio apartment at $1,275 a month and you see where I’m going with this. The bottom line is even if you aren’t living in New York City, the cost of going to college is skyscraper high. Tuition costs at many of the nation’s universities could easily make up the difference in the astronomical cost of housing in Manhattan.

Here’s the problem—two years later—try again to apply for that same loan. That is if you have come to grips with the fact that yes, you will be in enormous debt when you graduate, but at this point you’ve come too far to turn back. The same lender who took the chance on you two years ago can turn around and call you a liability because now that you have the loan they gave you, your debt-to-income ratio disqualifies you as a borrower. Am I missing something here? Did the lending institution that knew I was enrolling in college so that I could get a job to pay the bills I already had, somehow think that miraculously I might have increased my credit-worthiness while still pursuing that all important diploma?

What I find most fascinating about this dilemma—it wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I came across Hamlet’s famous words, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Now that’s what I call a tragedy.

College Stress Commentary

You Mean I Could Be Stressing Myself Out?
By Amanda Yazdi

I have discovered recently that there is truth to what doctors have been saying for years -- excessive stress has undeniable physical manifestations. This is not a fact I ever truly doubted, but like many other things in life, I had to learn the hard way to be convinced.

This epiphany came to me at the end of a long hard winter of illnesses: allergies, colds, strep throat, laryngitis, IBS (I know, I’ve shared too much), and migraine headaches, to name a few. I am a non-traditional college student, which means I am a 27-year-old second-semester sophomore working toward my undergraduate degree. I take classes part-time while working full time, and recently am attempting to throw a social life into the mix. Toss in a tyrannical boss, a controlling ex-husband and a mountain of debt and it is no wonder I am on a first name basis with my pharmacist, right? Not necessarily.

According to a recent report from the University of Florida Counseling Center there is much that can be done to prevent and moderate the effect of stress induced by college life, or just life in general:

-- Understand your role in stress reactions
-- Develop a balanced life-style and effective personal organization
-- Learn specific relaxation techniques
-- Gain perspective on problems by discussing them, and
-- Clarify your values and develop a sense of spirituality

As I read down the list of possible stress-inducing factors issued by the same report, I feel exposed for what I really am, a disorganized, procrastinating, out of shape cesspool of negative thoughts. And guess what? I am making myself sick! Okay, I am being a little hard on myself, but the point to be made here is that a little organization, relaxation, and good old-fashioned shut-eye can be the keys to a stress-free existence.

Here are a few suggestions from the University of Florida Counseling Center on how to get a grip before you complete another stressed-out semester of binge eating and incomplete assignments.

Develop A Balanced Lifestyle
This is pretty basic information—eat right most of the time (save the excesses for the weekends), try to exercise a little bit every day (no—a few flights of stairs won’t kill you), and give yourself enough time to work on projects and assignments ahead of time. Once you start moderating a few things, the rest will fall into place.

Specific Relaxation Techniques
Yes—there are people out there who haven’t discovered the benefits of yoga (myself included). For the rest of us, do what makes you relax—listen to music, deep clean your bathtub (and then take a bubble bath), talk to a good listener—the key here is taking the time to actually do it.

Clarify Your Values And Develop A Sense Of Life Meaning
What is the meaning of life? That probably sounds corny and outdated and like a question that has no answer. But what if you ask it this way—what is the meaning of your life? What makes you happy and fulfilled? Be sure to include those things in your everyday life. Whether you’re religious or spiritual, or simply believe that you can improve the quality of someone else’s life by just being a part of it in some small way, embrace your traditions or find new ones, just don’t miss your opportunity to do something meaningful every day.

In effect, the little things you do every day have a major impact on your total well being. So, tackle that closet overflowing with laundry, get a head start on the paper you know is coming up, and have a bowl of oatmeal instead of that cold pizza in the morning before your brisk walk to campus. Your body and mind will thank you.