After getting out of my English Composition class, I got a text that simply had a link in it:
What I read shocked the hell out of me. The government's doing a complete overhaul of the student loan system. This overhaul includes raises minimum salaries for Pell Grants, doing away with subsidized loans, and a whole bunch of other things that amount to hurting students. On the surface they may not sound too terrible, but if you take them as a whole, you'll see how badly they're going to affect the future of college education in America. If you're like me and you need some time to digest government-speak, go ahead and read that link then come back so I can sum it up for you & give you my thoughts on the matter.
Back? OK, cool. So, here's the breakdown. Starting July 1 of this year, there will be no more subsidized student loans for anyone in graduate program or getting a second degree. What does that mean? Well, it means that you HAVE to go with the unsubsidized loans. With those, instead of having interest deferred while you're in classes, they accumulate interest while you study. Also, any loans dispersed between July 1st, 2012 and July of 2014 will no longer defer interest during your six-month grace period between when you graduate & when you have to start repaying them. So, they're charging you interest while you study (which wasn't the case before) and now they charge you interest during the grace period(which was against the law). What's the interest rate you'll be paying? On July 1st it goes up to 6.8% from it's current 3.4%. Yep, they effectively double the interest.
They're also cutting back Pell Grants. From July onward, once you go through 4 years of Pell Grants (including summers) that's it - all gone. Considering that anywhere from a quarter to half of all college students take longer than four years to graduate this is essentially making it impossible for a sizable percentage of poorer students to get their degrees. It also puts returning students at a huge disadvantage -- with the economy this way plenty of people go back to earn a second degree, which Pell Grants will not cover anymore. If you have a degree already, you HAVE to go with a loan. Those same loans that will now charge more & higher interest than ever.
Oh, but hey - under the new rules, they'll be eligible for students loans if their income doesn't exceed $23,000. Sounds great, until you remember that those are the same loans that you're gonna be paying interest on for the next years. And if you have trouble paying down those loans? Well all the assistance programs the Direct Loan system had for struggling people - rebates, temporary interest reductions, etc. - will be done away with come 7/1/12. In its place will be one thing: A 0.25% interest reduction for people paying using automated checks. That's it.
Student loans are set to be the new credit cards. They'll constantly accumulate interest and late fees and always come up with some excuse to make you pay more. Whoever holds your debts holds tremendous power over your lives and now the Department Of Education wants a piece of the action. Student loan debts have passed the $1 trillion mark and these changes are sure to add to that. It's basically indentured servitude already -- You'll be working to pay off these loans for years, just like early American colonists who were very poor had to work for seven years to pay debts off & earn their freedom in the New World. So many people I know are struggling so hard to pay off their loans in a terrible job market and I don't see how these alterations will do anything other than make it all worse. The powers-that-be seem so committed to making things harder for young people and profiting off their dreams for a better life, that there's even been talk of removing the six month grace period that's supposed to assist in paying back loans.
So what can we do about it? I guess we can start by finding out who our elected officials are and sending them a ton of angry letters. There's also the little matter of reducing the costs of college. A college education wasn't always a surefire road to debt - state schools were inexpensive until the late '70s and in a few cases they were even free, because the costs were covered by tax dollars. Since the 1980s, though, tuition rates have more than tripled. Community colleges were spared this for a long time, which is why they became a popular choice for people returning to school in the past few years -- it's become so common that it's even the premise of a show called "Community" which I've never seen (but I hear it's great). I guess someone decided these were an untapped market, because I've read a bunch of articles about how those places are increasing their tuition as well.
Something has to be done, because this is essentially turning the academic world into profit centers. If I knew more about the politics of academia I could maybe offer suggestions on fixing these things, but I don't. All I can do is beg people to learn about what's going on and demand change. The only other thing I can suggest is pushing elected officials for alternative learning tracks. You have all these open learning initiatives like MIT's OpenCourseWare, Coursera from the University Of Michigan, Academic Earth and Kahn Academy -- in theory you could do a self-study program that amounts to doing a 2-year degree just using these online resources. I'd love to see some form of standardized test that will let you turn that self-education into college credits. But that would be two years' worth of interest the loan companies couldn't squeeze out of you, so I doubt that'll happen unless we could get a really big push behind it.
Maybe you guys here on DailyKos have some other ideas as well? I hope so. All I know is I'm full of anger and despair right now. I hate the idea that my desire and willingness to learn, to grow, to get ahead, has been viewed as a financial opportunity. I called it indentured servitude before and I stand by that -- I shouldn't be paying a debt for the next ten or twenty years because I chose to learn something. Especially if it's something that could be beneficial to the world at large. Whether it's running X-ray and ultrasound devices at a hospital, machining engine parts, editing manuscripts or something loftier like becoming a doctor or an engineer, I'm providing a service. I'm willing to pay to learn how to provide that service (although I don't think that I should really have to) -- but I am not willing to pay for the next twenty years to do it. Why are the student loan people allowed to profit off of my dreams and work before I get to? Why am I, and millions of other American students, being made to pay for the privilege of serving you?
What planet am I on, that this is considered acceptable? How is it this stuff isn't laughed out of the Capitol Building the second it gets brought up? To quote the soldier from the Thin Red Line: "Who's doing this? Who's killing us? Does our ruin benefit the Earth?" I dunno about the Earth but it must be benefiting someone. Fuck you, you piece of shit, wherever you are. Fuck you for taking my desire to be better than I am and twisting it into a way to make you rich.
Back to my books now, I guess. Might as well get the most I can out of this class - I'll be paying for it for the next twenty years, after all.
EDIT: Wow, my very first diary ended up on the rec list! Thanks so much for reading, everyone. It's clear a lot of you do care about this and want to see some things reformed -- glad I'm not alone here. There's some great discussion happening in the comments too, which I'd like to get to but I'm between classes right now, so I have to make this quick. A commenter named "SingleVoter" pointed out that there's two bills that are being passed through Congress right now to try & stop these new rules from coming into effect. They are House Bill 3826 and Senate Bill 2051 -- please, please contact your local officials and ask them to vote for these. Spread the word if you can, too - we've all got students in our lives and a lot of them won't know about this. Educating people is always the first step to better things!