If you want to address the growing student debt crisis, one way to do it, recently endorsed by Ivanka Trump and her father’s administration, is to reduce the amount of money students can borrow from the federal government to help them cover the exponentially-increasing costs of a college education.
I suppose it makes some sense, in the context of a twisted logic divorced from actual human lives and from studied and sound economic analysis and policy.
If people cannot access loans, then they cannot accumulate debt.
Of course, this also means, in this case, they likely cannot attend, or else have greatly reduced access to, college as well.
Nonetheless, last March 18, Ivanka Trump proudly unveiled a new proposal to set legislative limits on PLUS loans, which a federal loans designated for graduate or professional students as well as for parents of undergraduate students who are dependents to help pay for college or career school. Ms. Trump tweeted enthusiastically about the proposal, “Today, @WhiteHouse will be sending Congress our policy priorities to modernize our higher edu system to ensure access to affordable, flexible, demand-driven education for Americans of all ages. We urge comprehensive Higher Edu reform!! It is long overdue!”
The White House press secretary issued a similar more formal statement, saying Monday, “The principles, unveiled this afternoon at a meeting of the National Council for the American Worker, set forth concrete legislative actions that, if enacted into law, would provide more Americans access to affordable and quality education, improve institutional accountability, and help students and families make informed decisions regarding their educational options.”
The currently realities, beyond just mere logic, call into question the integrity of the claim that this proposal “would provide more Americans access to affordable and quality education.” Patty Murray, the Democratic Senator from Washington and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, similarly called into question the logic of the claim that limiting loans would increase access to college, insisting it “would end up hurting students by reducing the amount of federal aid for students and taking billions out of the pockets of borrowers.”
This proposal comes on the heels of Trump’s proposed 2020 budget, which freezes federal Pell grants, starkly reduces federal work-study funding, and eliminates loan forgiveness programs that make managing student debt much more burdensome.
Moreover, the proposal Ms. Trump celebrated and the budget the President proposed, both calling for severe reductions in the funds available to those aspiring to a college education, come at a time when well-qualified students are encountering increasingly formidable financial barriers to attending college, which, by historical standards, are more severe than ever.
Andrew Johnson and Brian Kinney, for example, credentialed college and career access advisers at Westinghouse College Prep in East Garfield Park in Chicago, report that even when their students do everything the right way and admissions and financial aid programs work as they are supposed to, these systems are still working against their students.
A key factor, they say, remains cost. They write, “Over the last few decades, it has become increasingly difficult for academically qualified, low-income students to pay for college. We have worked with countless students who have gained admission to schools of their choice but could not afford to attend them, despite being eligible for “maximum” financial aid.”
Another key factor, exacerbated by Trump’s proposed budget, is the declining value of the federal Pell grant. They tell the story of one of their student’s parents who fully funded her college education in 1969 with Pell grants. By 1980, they report, a student could cover only 69 percent of college tuition with a Pell grant, with that percentage sinking in 2017 to only 29 percent of a full year’s cost of college.
The vexed condition of many state budgets only heightens the challenge of affording college. Jonhson and Kinney report, “Viable financial aid packages are increasingly uncommon at many state institutions, as state funding for higher education has dwindled. The resulting changes disproportionately affect our students, as selective public universities reduce the share of low-income students they enroll and increase the share of students whose families can pay full price.”
So while Johnson and Kinney, counselors working on the front lines with largely low-income students of color in Chicago, attest to the daunting obstacles barring well-qualified students trying to afford a college education, Ivanka Trump is proud to propose making these obstacles even more difficult to surmount.
Of course, this callous and out-of-touch response is consistent with her recent insistence that Americans don’t want help as they struggle for upward mobility in the well-documented unfairness of the U.S. economy. She believes they would prefer to struggle and encounter obstacle upon obstacle. Indeed, when asked recently about her views on the much-touted Green New Deal animating progressive Democratic politics, she responded:
I don’t think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last 4 years. People want to work for what they get.
So, I think that this idea of a guaranteed minimum is not something most people want. They want the ability to be able to secure a job. They want the ability to live in a country where’s there’s the potential for upward mobility.
One has to wonder to which parts she traveled and whom she’s met.
And it is a well-researched conclusion that college grads are earning twice as much upon graduation as a high school graduate. The combination of higher-earning tax-payers and better-trained and better–educated workers would seem to constitute a boon for the U.S. economy, as I’ve argued elsewhere in the pages of PoliticusUSA.
The Trumps, I guess, aren’t smart or just don’t care. Or both. So what’s new?
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.
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