Classroom furloughs and thirty percent tuition hikes in California. Extreme budget cuts in South Carolina, Georgia, and Illinois. In the past, we've taken a college degree for granted. You went to school, got good grades, and applied to the best universities in the hopes that a loan, grant, scholarship, or financial aid package would be made readily available. But with the current credit crunch and recession weighing heavily on state and government budgets nationwide, fiscal "responsibility" could ultimately force hundreds and thousands of U.S. students to put off college in the interim, or ultimately drop out altogether.
Just how bad is it? We asked several of our student bloggers at UniversityChic.com to weigh in.
"It's ridiculous having to wonder if I'm going to graduate in four years," says Lexie Tiongson, a sophomore at San Francisco State University and blogger for UniversityChic.com. "Why should we pay more for school and not get any classes out of it?"
Tiongson's sentiments are indicative of the fear and frustration many students and educators are currently experiencing. While the National Day of Action to Defend Education on March 4th proved to be a rallying cry and brought nationwide media attention to this issue, it could still prove to be too little, too late if Congress fails to greenlight the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA).
According to Jane Hamsher, founder of the FDL Action, if President Obama's direct student lending plan isn't passed quickly, many college students could be left floundering until some time next year.
"And while schools and students struggle to get the money they need in time for school next year, the banks have introduced 'compromise' bill that's stripping support away from direct student lending and preserves their huge profits at the same time. We can't let them get away with this," says Hamsher in the FDL's Students Not Banks online petition that they're hoping thousands of students will sign.
"I rely almost completely on financial aid and would be devastated if my loans didn't work out," says Kara Apel, a student the University of South Carolina and UniversityChic.com blogger. "It's really sad when kids my age can't go where they want to because of money."
And money is the major crux of the issue -- it has to come from somewhere. If not out of spending set aside for financial aid and student loans, then from other programs like road work, retirement benefits, and federal and state budgets for jails and prisons.
While this quandary continues to muddle the powers-that-be in Washington, it hasn't stopped proponents of the Act from organizing and initiating protests and walkouts in an effort to defend their rights to a college education.
"I participated in the walk out on March 4th," says Tiongson. "I saw many other people from San Francisco at the Civic Center besides students that go to my school. I talked to a few kids, ages 6-9 that were holding signs [that said] 'We need art!' and 'I like school!'
Even Harvard University has found itself under the microscope following a series of proposed cutbacks suggested for the 2009-2010 school year. When budgetary constraints threatened to severely curtail campus shuttle service, it set off a loud debate as to whether safety came secondary to saving a few dollars. "Students were up in arms," explains Kylie Thompson, a Harvard undergrad and UniversityChic.com blogger. "[They] were saying a fifteen minute walk home at 3 AM after a library study session was unsafe. Students protested effectively and overnight shuttles were kept on the schedule."
Small victories. Renewed hope. Optimism over the future. While none of these are enough to ensure that the current credit crunch doesn't impact hundreds of thousands of young adults in the near future, it does indicate that the American Dream is still a powerful motivator - even when its buried under massive debt and complicated by competing political agendas.
What can students do to make their voices heard?
"Call you senators and see where they stand on the issue, and urge them to pass SAFRA," urges Hamsher.
Hamsher also encourages students to form their own rallies or even have the student government on campus pass a resolution in favor of the legislation. FDL can assist students with these efforts says Hamsher.
You can also sign the FDL's Student Not Banks campaign petition found here.
Follow Christie Garton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@UChic