Highlights: Paying the Price – College Costs and the Betrayal of the American Dream

September 24, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs

(light piano music) – First, I want to introduce
you to Chloe Johnson. What Chloe Johnson really
wanted to do in her life was become a veterinarian. She decided that she would go
off to a technical college. Chloe’s expected family
contribution was $2,520. That’s the amount of
money that the FAFSA deems your family is able to contribute
when you go to college. Her net price was over $12,000 a year. She got a partial Pell Grant. When the Pell Grant was created, it was intended to cover 100% of the cost of attending college. Her net price is 49%
of her family’s income for a single year. Her grades weren’t up to par. This was hard because I was
sleeping in a lot of my classes to try and catch up with sleep. It was a combination of stress and driving and trying to hold down two jobs just so that I could afford everything on a day-to-day basis. Today, Chloe is now
serving in the military but she’s still trying to pay off her debt and does not have a college degree. Pell Grant recipients were
never supposed to have debt. It’s why we created the Pell. So let’s ask ourselves if
we give out more grant aid. The Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study, which I started with my team, began with the very first
ever randomized control trial of need based aid. What this program aimed to do was to offer students some money. What they wanted to do was really focus on improving students’ graduation rates rather than students’ enrollment rates. When we looked at bachelor’s degree completion rates on time, we saw a statistically
significant increase from an average of 16% to 21%. We found many factors that appear to be really reducing the
potential impacts of this program. When they took loans and the
new scholarship comes in, there isn’t enough room in
their financial aid package to accommodate it. In order therefore to give them the grant, somebody had to take
away some of their loans. They had a hard time
holding on to this grant. Good news, my dad finally got a job. We’re paying down the debt
that the family’s accrued. Bad news, I lost my Pell Grant. When students are struggling in college, the number one way they
try to get their GPA up is to take fewer classes. When you take fewer classes, you drop below full-time status. You also lose your Pell Grant. What about Work-Study? The problem with this program is that is it dramatically underfunded. When we eventually,
last year, got out there with a national survey
at 10 community colleges around the country and
of the 4,000 students who did answer our surveys, one in five is classified as hungry and 13% were homeless. The FAFSA focuses on tuition
and not living costs. The politicians do too. The FAFSA presumes parental support that as I am showing you is often absent and in fact, misguided in the first place. It assumes that loans are optional. It doesn’t resource the
colleges to support students like those that I’ve just described. Inadequate financing,
I’d argue, is now part of the college completion problem. Only 14% completed a bachelor’s
degree within four years and 55% of those who
dropped out of college had debt and no degree. We need to put out accurate
cost of attendance. We need to improve the Work-Study program. We could do that tomorrow. We can coordinate benefits access so that, for example,
living in low-income housing does not conflict with
being enrolled in college. We don’t do any of the
sorts of waiver programs that we’ve done in other social programs to try to improve them and I argue that it is
time for universal, free, public higher education. I believe the message is important. If we could generate a
broader base of support for making public higher
education affordable, then we would have more
people tied into that system and when it took cuts, it would be like social
security, untouchable. I believe that instead
of targeting students based on income, we should target based on the level of education. So with me to proposal with
my colleague, Nancy Kendall, to make the first two years of
public higher education free. I believe it’s the place to start. It’s time to make college affordable. (orchestral music)