Higher ed tuition needs to come down

by Jay Ambrose

Whither America?

I don’t know and I hate discouraging news but how do you avoid it because, even when you look at higher education, you have to lower your gaze. Among a load of current worries about this, that and the other are tuition rates avoiding common sense as well as a sense of ethics about the harm to students and even society at large.

What happened was a federal student loan program taking no heed of students’ financial situations, meaning any student could borrow any amount, thereby leading even low-wealth middle-class students to imprudently borrow whatever it took to get a coveted degree. It was seen as a blessing for future life, but watch out.

Inspired by the cash flow, private colleges have raised tuition and fees to an incredible $39,723 a year, according to U.S. News and World Report. Multiply that by four years and you’re looking at $158,892, not taking account of room and board and other costs, plus interest on the loans.

Well, anybody can handle that, right? Of course, not all of the students borrowed the full amount or failed to seek out cheaper schools, such as public universities. Their four-year, in-state cost has risen on average to a lesser $42,692 for four years, which is not to say free at last, free at last, thank the federal loan program, free at last. Cheaper is better but better is not the end of risky borrowing for some in order to graduate, get knocked down by the real world and wait for a president to pick them up.

President Joe Biden is trying to do just that, of course, with a self-enacted $400 billion payment forgiveness program providing $10,000 to $20,000 a year to individual debtors earning less than $125,000 a year. The Supreme Court and a federal court are standing by him, but the Constitution still says a president can only spend money with congressional approval, which he did not get. Biden’s reliance on an act passed by Congress after the 9/11 terrorist attack two decades ago is also suspect.

It reduced student loan repayments for the military with a mention that loan payments could be reduced for others than the military in the midst of some new emergency. The administration did just that after COVID-19 struck, putting student loan payments on freeze until the end of this year. It has worked for ex-students being temporarily relieved of their debt burden. But the new Biden giveaway program does not come in the midst of the COVID emergency.

The program’s faults are already coming to light, such as the students alone certifying their own eligibility and leaving the door open for extensive fraud. Just maintaining the program could cost $100 million a year. Our crucial universities — right now handling their mission in frightening ways — need serious reform, such as lowering those tuitions tomorrow instead of raising them this coming year as planned.

The government ought to be honest, respect the rule of law and discontinue vote buying. Student imprudence should not be encouraged. Our society now has a serious labor shortage demanding far more skill training; the highly educated are not the only ones who make our system work. Taxpayers will be hit by the program and national debt is predicted to hit a historic high. Inflation could go up.

The program is not a good idea, it will not turn our country in right direction and it could hurt the innocent. Tuition needs to be reduced and the loan system needs serious revision.

Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at speaktojay@aol.com.