The envelopes started coming in the spring of my son’s freshman year of college: Citizens Bank, Wells Fargo, Sallie Mae.
“Find your perfect student loan! One proclaims – as if there is such a thing – or “Know that they are covered from orientation until graduation …” They don’t mention what happens after graduation of the diploma. I hid them from my child, who graduated from UMass Amherst this month with $ 27,000 in federal student loans. He already has enough debt.
In the United States, 45 million borrowers now have more than $ 1.7 trillion in student debt, second in total consumer debt after mortgage loans. Almost two decades ago, graduates of Massachusetts public universities had the 49th lowest student debt in the country, but by 2016 debt levels had reached 10th highest, an average of $ 30,248 per borrower.
And no wonder. Commonwealth cut funding for higher education 30% per student, in inflation-adjusted dollars, between 2001 and 2019, largely due to tax cuts which have cost the state over $ 4 billion a year and massively favor the wealthiest in the state. In 2001, Massachusetts supported families about 32% of the costs of a public university education; by 2018, that figure had nearly doubled, to 62%, as our public colleges and universities saw some of the highest tuition fees increases in the nation.
Without some financial help, my child and many others across the state simply would not go to college. Tuition and fees for state students at UMass’s flagship Amherst campus this year are $ 16,439, not including books or other necessities – out of reach for many families. And the full price of the sticker to live? On $ 31,000 per year. When grants, salaries and scholarships are insufficient, as is almost always the case, students turn to loans, which can have negative long-term effects. Student debt is associated with worse physical and mental health outcomes and lifestyle choices of delayed adults such as marriage, child rearing and home ownership.
“I’m not taking a second mortgage so you can go to college,” I told my son, his last year of high school, after the college acceptance records and college rolled over. financial aid. The private colleges where he had been accepted were immediately dismissed; even the one who claimed they “met every need” cost $ 25,000 more per year, after financial assistance, than UMass. Our public college system was clearly the best option.
I tiptoed through my son’s college years, fingers crossed. In the precarious single parenting calculations that I always make, we have managed to meet our financial obligations with the help of a dizzying array of scholarships, federal student loans, study jobs, and off-campus jobs – until three at a time for my child – and the scholarships my son laboriously applied for during long winter nights. I didn’t need to find a third job in addition to the two I already have. My son did not suffer from food or housing insecurity, like an extraordinary 56% of Massachusetts public college students.
I tiptoed through my son’s college years, fingers crossed.
In many ways we were lucky, but despite everything I held my breath every July, waiting to see the tuition / aid fee for the coming year, and therefore the tally. final. For the second year, the tuition contained an increase of $ 844, an increase described at the time – by men who probably always had lucrative jobs – as “moderate” (UMass Board of Trustees Chair Rob Manning) and like one who “Minimizes the impact on students and families” (President of UMass Martin Meehan). The following year saw another increase of $ 877. It took a pandemic to stop the cost increases for my son’s last year.
In a state renowned for education, it’s time to reinvest in our students. Senate Bill 824, known as the CHERISH Act, would reduce funding for public higher education in Massachusetts to 2001 levels, while freezing tuition and fees for five years. The Massachusetts Fair Share Amendment, known as the Millionaires Tax, is a proposed constitutional amendment that will tax income over $ 1 million by 4%, resulting in a $ 2 billion in annual revenues that will be used for education, infrastructure and transportation needs in the Commonwealth.
But investing more public funds in higher education is not only good for starving and cash-strapped university students; it is good for the state. Research shows that college graduates are both healthier and much less likely to need public assistance in their lifetimes. Compared to high school graduates, those with a college degree bring more than 2.5 times the tax revenue to state and local governments, an average of $ 137,000 per person.
Such an investment is a win-win written all over the place. It is high time to make access to affordable higher education a right, not a privilege.