The Students: Why We Cannot Afford To Cut Financial Aid

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is an essay covering an issue facing many people in the United States - both parents and their children alike - in the year 2012. The essay discusses the rising cost of financial aid, how it got this way, and ways it could potentially be fixed in the future.

Submitted: October 23, 2012

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Submitted: October 23, 2012



The Students
Why We Cannot Afford To Cut Financial Aid
By Anthony J. Piccione

Today in America - more than ever before in our nation’s history – students who attend college are heavily dependent on financial aid and student loans. This is due to the fact that the cost of college tuition has risen dramatically over the past several years. As a result of this, a major debate has been sparked over how to deal with this issue, more specifically with regards to how much of a role the federal government should play in fixing it. But there is one particular fact that both sides in this debate need to acknowledge: If you cut the existing amount of aid to college students, you will see fewer people who can afford higher education. As it is, most college students will tell you just how true it is that college is expensive. If we are a country that cares for its students – a country that wants to see them grow up to be educated individuals who are successful and can pursue their dreams in today’s world– then a college education is a necessity. Therefore, cutting college aid is simply not an option.

Since the founding of the United States, financial aid programs have been available in the form of grants, scholarships and student loans, starting with the very first scholarship program in the United States that was founded in 1687 at Harvard University. Over the course of the 19th century up to the early 20th century, there were numerous programs run at the state level that were created to help student afford college, such as the student loan program at Harvard (1840), the Regents College Scholarship Program (1913) and the Indiana State Financial Aid Association (1935). But it was not until the 20th century – when progressive ideas became more popular – that nationwide college aid legislation was enacted. Perhaps the most significant of such legislation was the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (1944), widely known as the “G.I. Bill of Rights.” The G.I. Bill provided World War II veterans with numerous benefits to help them financially when they returned home, which included aid to help veterans afford higher education. It proved to be an outstanding success, as 51% of veterans were able to use their benefits to afford college. Another major piece of legislation was the National Defense Education Act (1958). Enacted as part of a larger attempt to make the U.S. more competitive against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, this law created the graduate fellowship program and the National Defense Student Loan Program; two major nationwide financial aid programs. The 1960s – which saw a return of progressive governance led by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson – was a decade in which dozens of new programs aimed at providing aid to college students were enacted. These programs included the Economic Opportunity Act (1964), the Higher Education Act (1965), the Guaranteed Student Loan Program (1965) and the Educational Opportunity Grant Program (1965). It was not until the 1980s – during the era of Ronald Reagan – that politicians began to be more hostile toward additional federal spending and national education programs. Which the exception of a few new policies occasionally, there was rarely any new support coming from the federal government until recently, in terms of helping students afford higher education.

From the beginning of Reagan’s presidency to the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, the cost of college tuition has increased dramatically. Over the past year alone, the overall average cost for tuition at a public college increased by 7.9%, while it has increased for private colleges by 4.5%. As a result, the average cost to attend an in-state public college is at $21,447. For a private college, the average cost is $42,224. At the same time, only 27% of undergraduates receive Pell Grants, receiving an average of $2,600, and only 34% receive Stafford Loans, receiving an average of $5,000. However, there is one especially shocking statistic that ought to come to mind when discussing this topic: 65.6%. That is the percentage of undergraduates who rely on financial aid to attend college. These statistics show just how these issues are getting worse and one cannot just sit back at let it happen. Not with nearly two-thirds of our student reliant on financial aid to receive their education. The good news is that most politicians seem to agree that some sort of action must be taken to help fix it. The bad news is that – like any other major issue – there is deep disagreement over what that action should be.

The 2012 presidential election will ultimately decide the future of college students across the U.S. and the amount of aid that they receive. While education has been a popular debate topic for most elections over the past several decades, the election in which we are currently seeing is especially focused on the enormous issue of how to handle the cost of higher education. During his term as president, Barack Obama has focused his educational priorities on increasing the rate of college enrolled students. Perhaps the most significant pieces of legislation aimed at this achieving this goal during his presidency are the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (2009) and an amendment to the law entitled the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (2010). Together, these two laws end the process of allowing banks to give out student loans, and put the Department of Education in charge of giving out these loans. It also increases funding for Pell Grants and makes it easier for parents to receive PLUS loans for their children to attend college. He also has extended the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act signed by President George W. Bush (2008), and made additional investments in community colleges. During the campaign, he has promised to continue to do so during a second term if he is reelected in November.

As one could easily imagine, not all politicians agree with the changes that President Obama has signed into law. Many Republicans, such as the President’s opponent in this election, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, have strongly opposed them due to the increases in federal spending that it would mean, and have supported repealing them. Governor Romney believes that the federal government should not provide aid for college students so they could afford college, and has argued that the large increase in federal spending that President Obama has presided over in responsible for the rising cost of tuition and the increase in student debt. This belief that he holds is reflected in the ideas he has proposed during his campaign for the presidency. Throughout this election, Romney has criticized the President for putting the government in charge of giving out student loans and for increasing funding for Pell Grants, arguing that they make it harder to get loans, and that it is contributing to the national debt. He believes that it would make college more affordable if these policies were repealed.

, A fundamental difference exists between the views and proposals that each candidate has supported throughout the course of the campaign. At the heart of the debate in this election is how big or how small the role of the federal government should play is solving the problems our nation faces, and the issue of college tuition is no exception. One side argues that the federal government should play a bigger role in helping students afford college, while the other argues that less government involvement would be more beneficially. However – despite these two dramatically differently views on how to approach the issues – the facts and the history behind the issue of college aid would appear to overwhelmingly support one view over the other.

If our politicians were to decide to cut back on financial aid programs, it would be result in a degree in the amount of money in grants given to students, it would make it harder to get a student loan, and you will ultimately see fewer students who are able to afford to attend college nationwide. I do not say this as someone who supports one candidate or another. I am stating this because this is what the facts have all indicated. In the past, it has been proven that when you provide students with financial aid, they are more likely to be enrolled in college, and go on to obtain a degree. Even if you did not know all the facts stated in this paper, common sense ought to tell you that if you cut funding for a federal program, less people will ultimately have access to it. Therefore, how can you say that you care about future generations when you want to cut funding toward a program that many of them rely on to receive their education and have a better future?

The main arguments that many opponents of these programs have made is that they are in fact the cause of the increase in college tuition and also that of our national debt. However, many of them do not acknowledge that the main reason behind the high cost of college tuition was due to an insufficient amount of funding for higher education that caused them to raise costs to stay open. Nor do they admit that prior to the Obama presidency, banks were raising rates on student loans while they were in control to giving them to students. Furthermore, the majority of the federal deficit that contributes to our national debt does not come from federal funding for education. Rather, it is a result of our massive defense budget, tax cuts and deductions, and funding for entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. One could easily make the case that these aspects of the budget need to be either cut or modified. But it cannot be stated that the recent we have large budget deficits is due to funding for college aid. So why cut back on something that is so essential to future generations when it is not even the cause of our budget problems?

At the end of the day, this is perhaps the most important debate in this election. The way we decide to approach this issue that is at hand will ultimately determine the future of country for our children and our children’s children. In this election, we must decide whether we are a nation that still supports the concept of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – or whether we are a nation that supports the concept of survival of the fittest. Morally, it is unacceptable to provide less financial support for student who seeks higher education, considering the terrible results it would produce. Indeed, one could also argue that neither candidate has put forward proposals that would solve this problem once and for all. After all, any college student will tell you that affording college is especially difficult nowadays. That makes it only more important that our citizens – and our politicians – are fully educated on the facts regarding this issue. Until we can be certain that they are, it is our job to make sure that we continue to stand up and make our voices heard for the students, until they know enough to be able to solve this crucial issue once and for all.

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