These Memes Show the Problem Within the Fight for College Affordability

April 15th 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

Vociferous praise has been heaped on New York state for becoming the first state to provide tuition-free public college, starting with students whose families make less than $100,000 a year (including from ATTN:) and over three years expanding to families who make less than $125,000 per year.

However, while this legislation moves in a positive direction for future generations of public college-attendees, the tuition- or debt-free college bills come a little too late for some.

As the viral meme below points out, there are a great deal of students and graduates who are already burdened with student loan debt.

The Excelsior Scholarship, as the New York program is known, has no provisions to lessen the burden of students in the state who suffer under the weight of pre-existing student loan debt.

The plan is meant to fill in the gaps of financial aid. But critics like New York Times investigative journalist David W. Chen, are pointing out that the plan won't mean free tuition. In an interview with one of his colleagues Chen said:

“The total cost — tuition, fees, and room and board — for four years at a State University of New York college is about $83,000 — roughly $21,000 per year or $10,000 per semester. This program would pay about $26,000. Families would still need to shoulder nearly $60,000 to send a student to college.”

Additionally, the law requires those who receive the scholarship to work in the state for as many years as they received the stimulus or risk their scholarship transforming, post-graduation, into a loan.

Like the Excelsior Scholarship, similar proposals to create tuition- or debt-free public colleges in California and Rhode Island have not included or been coupled with new state initiatives to relieve student debt. Although some states already provide tens of thousands of dollars in loan forgiveness for certain health and agricultural professions, much of the work of unburdening students with saddled with debt has been left at the discretion of the federal government.

Last year, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the Student Loan Tax Relief Act to Congress as a way to prohibit the federal government from taxing students loan debt that was forgiven through current programs. In 2014, Warren proposed taxing millionaires at higher rates in order to allow students to refinance their loans at lower interest rates. Neither plan became law.

There is currently $1.31 trillion in student loan debts carried by 44 million borrowers. As ATTN: has previously reported, this economic baggage weighs down the entire nation by creating a drag on consumer spending, the housing market, and potential entrepreneurship. Studies have shown that the debt crisis also exacerbates racial inequalities, as the student loan debt gap between white and black students — of about $7,400 — more than triples over the course of their first four years of post-grad.

Added to the burden of student loans, are the recent rollbacks on reforms meant to make it easier for students to repay their debt.

In March, the Trump administration sent a letter to agencies responsible for collecting student payments on loans that essentially told them that they were allowed to charge additional fees to students who had defaulted on their loans, in effect ending an Obama-era rule. Less than a month later, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sent a memo that rescinded Obama-era rules that called for more protection for borrowers, penalties for companies that provided insufficient service to borrowers, as well as urged the creation of a single website where students could get information about their loans and pay them back.