PROVIDENCE, RI – In May of 2016, the over four-thousand colleges and universities in the US produced yet another graduating class. With enrollment totaling nearly twenty-million, a mass of individuals flooded the job market, hoping to finally earn back the money they poured into their widely coveted education. The only difference between these folks and those who filled their place a year before: two-thousand dollars.
National student loan debt has been steadily increasing over the past ten years, interestingly coinciding with a decrease in employment without a college degree. Plainly, this cycle reduces to a crippling paradox for the average American citizen — financial debt for job security. The current higher-education system presents a double edged sword for its students, stifling mobility and opportunity for those of the working class and below.
Indeed, many institutions have made a commitment to providing financial aid as a way of aiding those students who might face financial hardship in the face of post-secondary education decisions. Of those institutions, Ivy League and other “top-tier” private universities have made a special commitment to financial aid for low-income students, operating under the front of something like:
if we want you, then we’ll make sure to have you.
Yet despite this special attention paid to low-income families and students, student loan debt continues to climb, accumulating to a national total of $1.45 trillion this past year. The simple answer is the lack of attention paid to the middle. As higher education funding is often first targeted during fiscally conservative periods of state legislation and our overall federal education subsidies is one of the lowest globally (in proportionality), the average tuition for a US student exceeds $20,000, higher than the poverty level income for a household of three.
Considering such a cost has the capability to subsume the livelihood of an entire family living in proximity of the poverty line, it should be of little surprise that the burden can be strenuous even on middle-income families. Often times, these middle income families also miss the cut-off for substantial financial aid, as on paper they might be able to afford such an expense, but little subjective thought is given to all of the others responsibilities a family might face.
Thus more and more students must resort to loans, assuring their spot on what has been deemed the launch-board to financial success, a college education. Yet with loans and debt piling, one must question the degree to which a university is even fulfilling that task. As a degree comes to mean less and less, students across the country seem to be funneling money they don’t have in order to secure somewhat of a fighting shot, often times alienating themselves from their actual education in the process.
Fortunately, as dialogue regarding economic accessibility has become more prevalent across university campuses, it seems more university leaders are beginning to hear it. Perhaps in the same spirit that seems to have moved Ivy League institutions in the past, Brown University has made its awareness to the problem well known.
Earlier this month, Brown University President, Christina Paxton, announced The Brown Promise: The Future of Financial Aid at Brown. This plan, should it be implemented successfully, aims to eliminate all loans from student financial-aid packages.
“We know that families often confront difficult financial decisions when deciding where their students should attend college. Moderate-income families typically do not qualify for the level of financial aid offered to low-income families, yet also do not have the full resources to cover the cost of attending college. While Brown’s investments in affordability have increased enrollment among low-income and first-generation college students, applications from families in moderate-income brackets simply have not kept pace.”
Of course, this plan is idealistic, requiring the University to raise 30 million by the end of this year. However, should that goal be met, all Brown students receiving financial aid would effectively have their loans replaced with University grants in the academic year of 2018-19. At this current time, 42% of students are receiving need based financial aid, and only 64% of those students are absent of student loans. Should such an initiative pass, there is no questioning that a solid amount of students will be impacted (for the better).
Furthermore, it presents Brown an opportunity to establish an ideological front. Private universities can always be doing more to address the issues of economic accessibility presented by our education system. In the same vein, even state legislators can be doing more for their specific public institutions.
To learn more about the initiative, you can visit the