This year I will be starting college in France and I am going to France for two reasons. One being that I love France, its language and culture; the other being that I will be paying roughly $400 for my annual tuition without scholarships, grants, loans taken out or federal aid. (And additionally, I am still able to apply for federal aid for my housing). I am not able to go to a respected university in my own country without going into debt for the next few decades. It wasn’t always this way. And it doesn’t have to be.
Since the 1980’s the percentage of the federal budget that has been spent on education has decreased significantly, while the cost of education has skyrocketed and increased more than 5x the rates of inflation.
Some argue that we can’t afford to put more money into public universities. I say that’s a lie. We waste plenty of money into defense spending on weapons we will never use. Some defense spending is of course important, but to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into things we have no need for, or will never use is fiscally irresponsible.
What we can’t afford is committing an entire generation of educated people to the debt sentence. People starting their lives with tens of thousands of dollars in debt will not only severely damage our economy but it will also alienate entire groups of people who are brilliant and have potential that will either never be able to develop it or be struggling too hard to pay back into loans to be able to invest in their dreams.
The tuition costs we have now specifically hinder growth and that is not what education is about and it is not what our country says we’re about either. We say that we are the country of possibilities that anyone who works hard can make their way in the world. So then why am I someone who has worked hard for years needing to leave my country just to have access to a decent education without starting my adulthood in debt? I have stayed in the top 5% rankings in my class in one of the best schools in the country, a National Honor Society Member, took 10 AP classes, 5 honors classes and 5 classes that were considered college in high school classes for which I received college credit. I was a JV athlete in cross-country, a captain and varsity athlete in gymnastics and a varsity athlete in track and field in my high school. Additionally, I have babysat since I was 12 and babysat with an additional job from the time I was 16. And this year, on top of those two jobs, I had an internship with Darcy Burner.
So the fact that I didn’t receive enough scholarships to make school reasonably priced is not based on the fact that I didn’t work hard or didn’t do well in school. For every dollar in scholarships available there are 2 dollars of tuition. In the past, this number was reversed.
This week at a student activism conference, I met some students who have been in the ongoing protests in Quebec. They have had hundreds of thousands of students in the streets protesting and on strike because of the plan to have tuition raised from $2,168 to $3,793 between 2012 and 2017. When an American student at the conference asked, “why are you striking? You have the lowest tuition in Canada.” The Quebecois student responded, “we have the lowest tuition in Canada BECAUSE WE STRIKE.”
So, why are we not all in the streets? We’ve normalized the way in which we deal with tuition and higher education but that doesn’t make it right. We need to fight for our right to an education. As a country we seem to agree with that from elementary school until high school so what makes higher education any different?
We can do better than this. We can fight for our right to education. If not an education that is as cheap as it is in France, at least something that is more manageable for the average citizen.The students of this country need to step up and stand together to fight for access to education without going into debt before it’s too late.