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Noam Schimmel

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Romney and Ryan Undermining Access to Higher Education

Posted: 09/10/2012 1:29 pm

Skyrocketing tuition costs in America for college students yield the same commentary from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as most social and economic problems do -- the predictable knee jerk response to have faith in markets and trust that they'll magically address a social need.

Well, the time for magic is over.

When Mitt Romney was asked how he would lower college tuition he offered an evasive and exceedingly unhelpful response: "Shop around,'' he said.

Does Romney really think American students do not shop around now? Is this a thoughtful piece of advice or a reflection of a lack of concern and a passing of the buck?

It's time for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to stop stating the untruth that cutting from budgets for essential social services is a creative process -- when its done excessively, recklessly, and carelessly. Such relentless and radical cuts leave citizens vulnerable and disadvantaged.

They are destructive and their destructiveness is already being felt by the hundreds of thousands of young Americans being deprived of a college education, the negative consequences of which all Americans will feel for decades ahead.

Higher education is expensive in America for many reasons and it is fine and good for Republicans to find ways to encourage and pressure universities to bring down unreasonable costs and address waste in the system. All Americans will support such efforts and Romney and Ryan are right to insist upon them.

But this alone will not provide working class and middle class Americans with a dependable and accessible pathway to higher education and Republicans should stop pretending otherwise because Americans are catching on to the lie.

Moreover there is no better way to alienate a massive swath of American citizenry than to cut funding for loans and grants to students seeking to enroll in higher education and in need of economic support to do so.

Those of us in our twenties and thirties struggling to make ends meet so that we can afford higher education and pay back loans, and those of us in our forties and even fifties who are paying off massive loans and feeling the strains of our inadequately funded system of higher education and the economic toll and pressures it places on young families and households are voters.

We recognize that Romney and Ryan's plans are damaging and we will hold them accountable.

America does not invest nearly enough in financial aid for students and in support for community colleges and state universities and the sharply negative consequences of this underinvestment are being felt now and will be felt for decades.

Community colleges are cutting classes and programs because of massive budget cuts, state universities are rejecting students and closing down programs and courses for lack of resources, and the door to the American dream is getting slammed in the face of young Americans over and over again.

Romney and Ryan, instead of finding a way to open the door and allow more young Americans through it are proposing policies that make education more exclusive, perpetuating inequality and undermining social mobility.

They want to cut Pell Grants massively, which will make it harder for working class and middle class students to afford college. Ryan's budget calls for increasing interest rates on student loans, raising the costs of higher education for students considerably and serving as a further barrier to education. Both Romney and Ryan want the American Opportunity tax credit, which aids students enrolling in higher education, to expire.

Romney wants private companies to be lenders to students, even though the billions of dollars in profits they make do nothing to make higher education more affordable or to improve higher education and instead raise costs unreasonably for students.

That doesn't seed the American dream. It chokes it.

Education costs money and requires tax revenue and a willingness to raise sufficient revenue to meet basic standards of educational quality and access. Just like healthcare does. And housing. And the whole range of services and protections afforded by the government. That necessitates shared sacrifice and a sense of civic and collective social obligation.

Somewhere, somehow, Republicans have been losing this sense of civic obligation and communitarian responsibility and they are making a credo of this as though it is something of which they should be proud.

It's not. It's a moral failure and a failure of the spirit and the heart.

It is also an economic and an intellectual failure -- because the American economy will not flourish when the conditions of growth, which necessitate universal, affordable, quality education to build human resources and skills, strengthen human development, and encourage civic engagement are not met.

The Republican Party suffers from what has become a chronic, cruel, and crippling form of miserliness that in the face of injustice and denial of opportunity clenches its hand into a fist and leaves millions of Americans who are increasingly marginalized and disadvantaged out in the cold.

This latest policy proposal on student grants and loans which does little to make higher education affordable and expand access to more Americans is but one example of a larger Republican problem.

Repeating the same claims about private markets and increased competition -- as though these can answer every social need and social ill -- repetitively and increasingly loudly will not make the claims any more right.

All they do is reveal the extremism and doctrinaire nature of Romney and Ryan's conservatism and its lack of respect for responsible conservatism that is reasonable, moderate, and morally sound and promotes social well being and recognizes the importance of the public good.

Americans have real needs and vulnerabilities which will not be solved with dogmatic ideology and empty rhetoric.

Access to affordable, quality higher education is one of the greatest positive influences on social mobility, societal well being, and equal opportunity.

Romney and Ryan's stance on cutting funding for Pell grants, raising interests rates on student loans, and underfunding higher education and research generally threaten all of these.

They make Romney and Ryan obstacles to the realization of the American dream and its underlying promise of equal opportunity and a fair chance for all Americans to improve the quality of their lives and in so doing be empowered to contribute to the greater good of American society as a whole.

If Romney and Ryan stand with American students and college graduates they will reverse course, revise their plans, and offer policy responses that respect the rights and needs of young Americans seeking higher education.

 
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