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Friday, October 21, 2016

Well, finally! Hard-right congressional leaders and the Obama White House have agreed that interest rates on student loans should not double to nearly 7 percent, as they let happen early in July. Instead, college students will be billed at a rate that will steadily rise higher than 8 percent.

This is progress?

Temporarily, yes, because the new law drops this year’s rate to 3.8 percent. But, for the longer run, obviously not. Even capping the interest rate at 8.25 percent, as the White House demanded, is too high, for it still saddles students with a crushing debt of some $20,000 to $40,000 for a four-year degree, just as they’re getting started on their economic path.

But worse, lawmakers are playing small ball again, avoiding the big issue they should be addressing. Bickering over interest-rate percentages shrivels the public debate to its most picayune and meanest point, which our so-called leaders seem to specialize in these days. They focus on the price of everything, without grasping the value of anything. And the value of a college education — not only to America’s youth, but most significantly to our whole society’s economic and democratic future — is clearly established.

So the big question to be asking is this: Why isn’t higher education free? Les Leopold, director of the Labor Institute, notes in a July 2 AlterNet piece, “For over 150 years, our nation has recognized that tuition-free primary and secondary schools were absolutely vital to the growth and functioning of our commonwealth.”

Providing free education, from kindergarten through high school, paid off big for us. Today, though, that’s not enough, for open access to a college degree or other advanced training is as vital to America as a high school diploma has been in our past.

Forget interest rates, young people should not be blocked by a massive debt-load from getting the education that they need to succeed — but also that all of America needs them to have for our mutual prosperity and democratic strength.

Let me frame the question in terms of a real-life choice: Is making higher education available to every American more important to our national interest than letting Wall Street profiteers make a few more billions of dollars each year?

  • idamag

    Yes, yes, and yes. Germany, whose education is free from kindergarten to whatever degree is desired, has a better economy. When you invest in education, you invest in the future of the United States. When greed has wrapped its tentacles around our government, it won’t be long until we have no democracy. An illiterate country is a weak country. We should stop looking on ignorance as a virtue.

    • TZToronto

      That’s not ignorance. It’s keepin’ it real. That fancy book-learnin’ don’t do nobody no good no how. And tax robotic transactions??!!? Why it’s, it’s, it’s . . .un_American!! . . . Is there a box of tea I can throw into some nearby body of water?

    • sigrid28

      In France, education is free through the bac (high school degree). If you pass the bac, college and university education is free also. In addition, there are trade schools and other small post-secondary schools for those who do not pass the bac, some of which charge tuition and some not. I taught at the college level in Paris for one year at one of the few schools that had entry requirements besides passing the bac. The students were solid and serious, for the most part. But they did not buy books. They were provided with photocopies from books. I hope by now laptops are commonplace–when I taught in the nineties, they were not allowed even for students with dyslexia who needed them (special needs students didn’t exist as far as school administrators were concerned at that time). Nepotism and cronyism governed teaching hires–as is the case in Italy as well. Forget about meritocracy–privilege is the currency of choice inside academe and without. So your free education means almost nothing unless you were born to the right family or unless your family has the correct social contacts.

      Twenty years later, American society is becoming less a meritocracy that it was in the seventies and eighties, and each day more and more resembles the French society I observed in the nineties. At least French students and families did not go broke finishing the only educations they were allowed, to rise to the only level to which each particular student would be allowed to rise, based on his or her social status. I found French educators a little anti-intellectual (in a Republican way) when it came to their preference for photocopies over real books, their Luddite disdain for computer literacy, and their refusal to consider the needs of students when designing curriculum or classes. In an English class I taught the group think that chose readings (decided mainly by French students of American literature) classified Walt Whitman’s writings from his “Leaves of Grass” as prose, and no Americanist from America could convince them otherwise. So free education is better than education that results in life-long debt, but it must also be offered in a way that extends opportunities throughout the culture rather than divvying them out by class.

      • tax payer

        So, how about these people moving to France.

    • tax payer

      You’ll still have many educated people staying home living off the tax payers, if they get a free college education.

  • Sand_Cat

    Why do the Republicans oppose education? Because as educational attainment increases, support for Republicans drops at nearly the same rate. What could be more obvious?

  • Michael Kollmorgen

    As far as I’m concerned, education in and of itself should be a Constitutional Right, free and guaranteed to any level of achievement.

    And, keep religion out of the schools!

    But, we can’t possibly have a secular well-educated populace. Now can we!

  • tax payer

    A Free Education, if you have the Brains to get a Scholarship. Also a Scholarship in Baseball, Football, Tennis, Swimming, Bowling, Basketball, Soccer and many other sports can get you a free education.