Keep fighting for cheaper tuition


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Today is a grim reminder of the gross injustice being brought against America’s students.

Aug. 25 is the due date for the year’s first University Bill. Thousands of undergraduates at Iowa will send the university far more money than they should have to. Those payments will be financed, in many cases, by student loans. Entering freshmen, returning upperclassmen, and graduate students must keep fighting tuition increases and work to make higher education accessible and affordable.

The consequences of allowing the costs of higher education to rise are severe for students and for society.

The cost of attending the University of Iowa for the coming year is $16,515 for in-state students, $33,849 for out-of-state students (including estimates for room and board). Compare those figures with 1980, when a student at a public university would need to spend about as much money on four years of college as he would to buy a new pickup truck.

The huge problem with the increasing cost of higher education is that the trend is self-sustaining. Our generation is frequently described as “apathetic” by older ones. What these critics fail to acknowledge is the crippling effect of expensive higher education on students’ lives. Student loan debt is higher than ever, reaching a total of $550 billion in the United States last year.

The effects of graduating with a large amount of debt extend beyond red ink in post-college financial planning, which was proven in a recent study in the Journal of Public Economics. The study revealed that the looming specter of massive debt affects students’ academic and professional decisions in college and postgraduation. Students are forced to forgo enriching educational opportunities they can’t afford and choose jobs after graduation that pay the most rather than entering lower-paid public-interest jobs.

Many state and federal legislators have been silent on this issue. Former Gov. Chet Culver’s cuts to public education caused a tuition increase in 2008. He told Iowans the tuition levels “concerned” him, but he took no real action toward changing them.

One Iowa state senator, Sean Hamerlinck, told lobbying students to “go home” earlier this year. Not only did the senator want to avoid fixing the problem, he didn’t even want to hear about it.

In contrast, Gov. Terry Branstad has been very present in the tuition debate — but on the wrong side. Branstad has repeatedly proposed funding cuts to higher education.

We can’t allow these shortsighted, unjust policies to continue. Society will suffer because there are fewer graduates entering public-interest work. Skilled professions such as law and medicine experience shortages in rural areas while new graduates are forced to choose high-paying jobs instead of practicing in areas where there is less money but still high demand. Many legislators on both sides of the aisle fail to recognize that public education is a public good, and thus they don’t fight hard enough to support it.

Beyond affecting the jobs we choose, the cost of higher education hinders the advancement of our own and future generations. The existence of the debt itself prevents them from fighting it and from getting involved in other issues. Students working two full-time jobs to pay for school don’t always have time and energy to protest and advocate against harmful education policies. Those same students may not have time to demonstrate against wars or go listen to a candidate speak before voting.

Our generation is being pacified by our financial obligations.

Iowa students must enter the 2011-12 school year planning to fight this trend. No matter what your background or political leanings, attend protests, contact your representatives, and don’t support any officials that don’t show a true commitment to cutting college costs. The issue is about more than just money.

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