The Disconnected Republicans on Student Debt and Tuition



Saying that Republicans are disconnected regarding the problematic issue of student debt and high tuition costs might be too kind, or maybe it could be considered as painting with a broad brush stroke.  I’ve watched most of the Republican presidential debates and haven’t heard any discussion about the problem.  And once in awhile I hear comments from Republicans who claim the problem of high tuition costs is the result of bloated administration costs, or because student aid and federal loans are increasing tuition costs.

So do most Republicans believe that student debt and high tuition costs are really not that big of a problem?

I decided to write this blog for a few reasons.  The first is because, well, I’m a graduate student – and soon to be dropping out because of high tuition costs and student loan debt.  Thus I’d like to share my personal experience of the problem, and many of my classmate’s experiences.

The second reason is because I’ve had enough of listening to an older generation of Republicans who think the students who are talking about the problems of high tuition costs and student debt are “would-be socialists” who are simply “whining” about their situation.  I give you exhibit A, just in case you think I am making this up.

Exhibit A:

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 9.26.18 AM

In a crude way, the above comment would likely get a big “fuck you, asshole” from a few students.  However, that would only mimic the childish comment above.  So instead I’ll calmly and rationally explain why people like Mr. Turnquist are wrong-headed for saying these types of ridiculous things.

Calling anybody who raises the issue of student debt and high tuition costs as “would-be socialists” is, well, red-baiting, and is a pathetic attempt to undermine people who are raising a very legitimate problem.  But, more importantly, this kind of comment from the older generations of “libertarians” and Republicans show how incredibly disconnected they are from the issue.  Let me explain why.

I remember sitting in the Colorado state capitol last year listening to Republican Senator Tim Neville explain why capping interest on student loans “wasn’t the job of government,” and how when he was a kid he paid his way through college.  I had researched the problems of higher tuition costs for a project of mine, so I would have loved to counter his rather simplistic explanation for why he was against helping students.  But, that really wouldn’t have mattered because every single bill that Democrats bring to the floor regarding helping students this past few years has been blocked by the Republicans – even the bills that get an overwhelming majority of citizen and expert support during committee hearings.

For starters, Senator Neville and anybody who went to college in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s, went to school during a time when the state and federal governments heavily funded public education, thus making it cheap.  Republican arguments, like the one above from Paul Campos, will tell you that government actually funds public education at a higher rate than before.  This is somewhat correct; however, what the argument doesn’t mention is that the amount of funding per pupil has actually decreased.

A great example of this decrease in government funding can be seen in this report by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.  This report clearly shows how when the state of Colorado decreased its funding by 32% over a five-year period that tuition rose nearly the same amount at public universities.  In other words, the five years of cuts to higher education funding by the state legislature translated to higher tuition costs for students.  Thus students needed to take out larger loans to help pay for higher tuition costs.

The other interesting thing that the report shows is how capital construction costs used to be funded by the state as well.  However, this funding was replaced by “student fees.”  These student fees are costs incurred by the students that are above and beyond the cost of tuition.  So not only are today’s students having to pay much more of their share of tuition costs than did the older generations, but they also have to help pay for capital construction costs. (**note how this funding for capital construction costs increased in 2014. This was because the Democrats were able to get SB14-001 passed.)

Thus, it is a terrible irony that Senator Neville and other Republicans suggest that government should not be involved in public higher education when, in fact, the very reason many of the older generations were able to pay their way through college was because, well, government was involved.

Furthermore, this “I paid my way through college when I was a kid” also overlooks the problem of the cost of housing and the minimum wage during these times.  The minimum wage in 1970 was $1.60 per hour, and today it is $7.25 per hour.  Thus minimum wage has increased about 353%.  This seems like a healthy increase.

However, you start to see the Republican disconnect when you look at the overall increase in the price of higher education and the cost of housing.  In other words, the math just doesn’t add up.

In 1970, the average tuition cost for a year was $1,287.  In 2007, the average tuition costs for one year had risen to $11,034.  This equates to a 994% increase in the cost of tuition for a four year degree!  In Colorado, this excludes the 32% rise in tuition over the eight years, so it is now over 1000% more expensive than in 1970.  On top of this, the median cost of a house in 1970 was $23,600.  And in 2011 (after the housing downturn) the median cost of a house is $240,100.  This is an increase of 917%.

One of my professors told me how he rented a studio across the street from DU campus when he was getting his PhD in the late 1990s for only $250.  A student today would be lucky to rent a studio for less than $900 in the same area.

The math is pretty easy to figure out that it is now impossible for today’s students to do as the older generation was able to do.  Today’s students can no longer work a minimum wage summer job, nor even a full time low wage job, to pay for tuition and housing costs.  Thus the only way for most of today’s students to pay for a very expensive higher education is through student loans.

Furthermore, the generations who are shackled with student loan debt are struggling to buy new homes, cars, and whatnot.  I have two close friends (one who makes $60,000 per year, and the other who makes $53,000 per year) and neither of them can afford to buy a home because, well, their monthly student loan payments are about the size of a mortgage.  Thus, economic growth in this country is being stifled by student debt.  This really isn’t rocket science.  It’s Economics 101 – which Republicans ironically claim that only they understand.

Suggesting that students are just “whining” about their situation and only want “free candy” shows how utterly disconnected Republicans are from the problems of student debt and higher tuition costs.  Worse, students are working their butts off to better their lives.  I can attest to this because I worked nearly full time to put my self through school.  Thus the last thing they, and I, need to hear as we accomplish this task is the insulting comments rumbling out of the Republican ranks.

What is the solution?  Well, for starters, society certainly needs to start an honest discussion about higher education.  And suggesting that students are just “whiny,” or “wanna-be socialists,” or “lazy kids looking for free candy” is not the way to start that discussion.  It actually stifles discussion.

These kinds of disconnected and insulting comments also show why the younger generations are flocking to support Senator Bernie Sanders.  Now maybe you don’t believe Bernie’s plans for a tuition free public education is feasible at this time, but at least Bernie has the courage to speak honestly about a very serious problem.

So maybe it is time for Republicans to head on down to college campus’ and get connected to students and actually listen to their real life experiences, rather than throwing out childish insults, and simplistic “government is the problem” arguments.


Yours truly,

Mark Olson

PS, I have no copy editor, nor do I swim in the donor pools who will give me money to shill for their interests.  Thus my perspective and any grammatical errors above are all mine.







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