Free College and Student Loan Forgiveness in the Democratic Debate

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk during in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Last night, education policy was front and center. But only higher education. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have various proposals that aim at reducing the burden of college students and recent graduates. On the table are free college and student loan forgiveness.

Now, college tuition rates are insane. Some colleges are $73,000 for full cost of attendance. Yes, there are tuition discounts for merit and need, but lots of students pay full freight. That’s their sticker price. And some students do rack up significant amounts of debt, particularly if they tack on masters degrees, take a long time to graduate, and just make bad decisions.

You know that I’m highly sympathetic and have ranted about those issues for a while. But I’m worried about blank checks for college for a number of reasons.

It penalizes people who made hard choices to avoid debt: A school teacher who doesn’t take vacations but puts money in 529 accounts for her kids since birth. A college graduate who takes a boring job, rather than the dream job, to pay off the loans. A student who attends a community college for two years, before transferring to a four year college. The kid who goes to an in-state public college, solely because of cost.

It does nothing for students who can’t finish college, which may be even more of a serious crisis than debt.

It does nothing for students who need a degree from a trade school. Or don’t attend college at all, but still need training and employment support.

It does nothing to stop the cause of the problem – colleges. They are allowed to keep raising tuition, even at in-state public colleges, without any checks. Even, as they do in my state, waste buckets of cash on losing sports teams. And there is no pressure on them to improve quality. They keep replacing full time faculty with adjuncts.

There is no distinction between public and private colleges in their plans. A public college is a right, a private college is not.

As many have pointed out, it benefits the middle class without much trickle down help for working and lower class citizens.

Steve and I attended a grad school program that didn’t provide any funding for its grad students. Not even tuition. (Yes, majorly stupid, but let’s move on.)

I kept my loans manageable by working part-time, sometimes full time, at a policy institute at the same time as taking classes and writing a dissertation. I also taught a few classes. Steve taught a great deal, while doing his classwork. While students at other universities were building their CVs, we were ghost writing papers and teaching 50+ students at the Bronx Community College.

Even with all that, our combined student loan debt when we got married was over $75,000. We paid it off around my 50th birthday. We’re better off than most of our classmates, who were looking at bigger numbers. That debt was awful. It had a big impact on our careers and other life choices (children, homes). Grad school was a MAJOR financial train wreck. (I’m not even going to talk about the impact of beginning to save for retirement in your mid 30’s, rather than your 20’s.)

So, I am highly, HIGHLY sympathetic to anybody who wants to ease that burden on others. Yet, I’m not entirely happy with the current proposals, because they don’t check the colleges themselves, don’t distinguish between public and private colleges, penalize good behavior, and don’t help people who choose alternatives to college.

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Mueller Hearings, Impeachment, and 2020

I just spent an hour driving Jonah back and forth to pick up his car from Jimmy the Mechanic. The hand-me-down Toyota — 150,000 miles — that he uses to commute to his college for a summer class needed nearly $1,000 in repairs. Sigh. Some day, he’ll have a job, right?

On the way over, we listened to the Mueller hearing on NPR. I used the hearing to talk about the committee system, impeachment rules, divisions in the Democratic Party, and polling information about 2020. Jonah is a political science major, so I squeeze in mini-lessons whenever I can.

Mueller can’t indict a sitting president, because that’s the job of Congress. The House impeaches, and the Senate convicts. And the outcome is obvious. The House will impeach, but there aren’t enough votes in the Senate. That’s why Pelosi isn’t supporting impeachment at this time.

Impeachment would shutdown government for a year. That means no legislation on healthcare or anything really. It would be worth the sacrifice, if the impeachment would lead to ushering out Trump out of office. But it wouldn’t. In fact, the proceedings would make sure that every Republican who hates Democrats, more than they despise Trump, would show up to the voting booth on Election Day. Pelosi fears that a failed impeachment would hand the election to Trump.

There is no way that a diehard Republican is going to vote for a Democrat, but there is a chance that they might stay home on Election Day. That’s what we want. We want bored, lazy Republican voters, not energized, woke Republicans.

Most members of Congress know that an impeachment is unlikely, but they hope that the hearings will undermine Trump’s reputation. Give him a black eye or two.

Are you watching? It is working?

Giving Bannon a Platform

Last night, Twitter exploded with opinions about Bannon being uninvited to talk at a New Yorker festival.

I have mixed feelings about all this.

On the one hand, I do blame the media for giving Trump too much of a platform before the election. He shouldn’t have been able to just call into the Today every morning and chat with Matt Lauer before the election.

On the other hand, I want to know what that Rasputin has to say, because I still can’t believe that Trump is president. Bannon is awful. I don’t want him to have a permanent stage to talk, but I want to know more, in order to hate him more effectively.

Semi-off topic… A disturbing number of teenage boys around here are supportive of Trump. These aren’t the kids of coal miners in West Virginia. They are the children of stock brokers attending fancy private schools. They have command-stripped “Don’t Tread on Me” flags over the dorm room beds. We can’t pretend this isn’t happening.

What Will Help Working-Class Americans?

If we’re looking a silver lining in the whole Trump election business, then we have to say that it’s a good thing that the media is shining a light on the problems of working class Americans. They have been forgotten. Whole sections of the country are struggling. I’ve seen it when visiting family in Cleveland (here and here).

So, now that the focus is on this group of people, the debate has begun about what to do to help. Should we bring back the labor unions? Do we need stronger boards and trade restrictions? Can a president really do anything to turn back the clock?

It’s a good debate, I think. I’m looking forward to seeing how this whole thing plays out.

Done Being Depressed?

Last week, I was a mess. Honestly, I was. I was pretty much on Twitter all day and, with my horrible insomnia, most of the night.

I am seriously worried. I don’t necessarily regret not having Hillary in the White House. She was a seriously flawed candidate. But I am freaked out by the fact that we have elected Donald Trump.

The why question is fascinating and I think we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet. Was it racism? Was it economic? Was it culture wars? We’ll be taking this election apart for decades to come.

But the why question is less important right now than the “what’s going to happen next?” question. Who is this ass putting in the White House? Is John Bolton really going to be Secretary of State? Are they really going to start building up the military, as Giuliani promised on the Sunday morning shows? Will they reinstitute the draft? Will Jonah end up in a Syrian desert? That thought isn’t improving my sleeping situation.

I got sidelined from the Atlantic gig for two months with an assignment for a light, non-partisan education website that seems to be having problems getting off the ground. Gee, I hope I get paid. But now I’m back to work. I don’t have time for light, apolitical writing anymore, even if it pays well.

This morning, I’m working on a piece this morning on the Republican state legislatures, which haven’t been getting enough press. Those guys will have a bigger impact on schools than Donald Trump in the next couple of years.

What Happens If Trump Wins?

On Twitter, Dan Drezner asked:

My answer:

So, what survivalist skills do y’all have?

Ross Douthat tells conservatives that should take a page from the pro-life handbook and NOT elect Trump

A vote for Trump is not a vote for insurrection or terrorism or secession. But it is a vote for a man who stands well outside the norms of American presidential politics, who has displayed a naked contempt for republican institutions and constitutional constraints, who deliberately injects noxious conspiracy theories into political conversation, who has tiptoed closer to the incitement of political violence than any major politician in my lifetime, whose admiration for authoritarian rulers is longstanding, who has endorsed war crimes and indulged racists and so on down a list that would exhaust this column’s word count if I continued to compile it

UPDATE: I’m procrastinating and reading all the Trump articles today. Here’s one by Maureen Dowd talking about when Trump and Clinton were friends. It’s the most interesting thing that she’s written in ages.

Should Have Listened to the Intern

In August 2015, I blogged:

Last week, before the debate, I took Jonah to the orthodontist. His front two teeth have started returning to their default gap position, but that’s another story. Jonah was stretched out in the chair with a college kid in the next chair in the row. The orthodonist sees patients in a factory-like system with a large staff of hygienists. We were the last patients of the day, so the staff was cleaning up and chatty. We started talking about the debate. They all had opinions.

Then the college kid piped up. He said that he had a summer job answering the phones in the property manager’s office for one of Trump’s hotels in the city. He said that he received phone calls all day long from people who must have googled Trump’s name for the hotel phone number and were just calling to give their support. When the college kid imitated these callers, he gave them a strong Southern accent.