Universities need to do more to alleviate student debt

ArashTadjiki-Mike-Lee-cartoon Colby Patterson
Arash Tadjiki

Arash Tadjiki

It is not often that old news grabs my attention, but an article published by The Salt Lake Tribune in July caught my eye this week. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) stood side by side with 17 Senate Democrats in opposing a bill tying the Stafford loan interest rates to Treasury lending rates. I never did read why the Democrats opposed the bill, but here are Lee’s words: “We should be working to create a higher education system that doesn’t force students tens of thousands of dollars into debt in the first place, rather than fighting over $7 a month.”

I could not agree more. There are people working on the issue, but they seem to be going about it the wrong way. Temple University is initiating the “Fly in 4” program, whose aim is to provide funding to students, as long as they are on track to graduate in 4 years. While a $4,000 a year grant may not sound so bad, put in the context that the average annual in-state tuition of Temple University is around $13,000, the erroneous direction of this program is revealed. How exactly is a university student supposed to come up with the remaining $9,000 as well as have enough money to live and eat and probably make a monthly student loan repayments? Especially on what is probably income from a minimum wage job?

Lee’s words really resonate with me when I consider the case of Temple University. They are attempting to assist students by handing them an essentially paltry and insignificant amount of funding. The message being fed to America’s underprivileged class is that if you don’t have independently wealthy parents to foot the bill, then you don’t deserve to better yourself without accruing massive, life-time debt. It was revealed last year that even Lee has outstanding student debt.

All of this criticism is insubstantial without a course of action. While I’m not an expert, I would first look at the institution of student lending. According to several sources, the federal government earned $66 billion off the interest paid from student loans between 2007-2012. Those loans are supposed to be an investment in America’s future, not a profit generator for the government.

A full audit of university spending would pinpoint excess and waste, thereby opening doors to lowering tuition rates for the students. Furthermore, while a university president should certainly be taken care of and compensated for his work, what is fair compensation? I don’t have the answer, but it’s a conversation worth having.

For only the second time, Lee got it right. This does not mean I like his politics or his policies, but I am amenable to arguments made from a place of reason. Tuition rates, student lending and the enormous amount of debt are unreasonable, and therefore I am beholden to argue against these institutions that are party to extortion and theft.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu