Restoring affordability to a college education is vital to America

Focus needs to be on approaches, which are affordable and effective for students and their families

When my parents graduated from high school in 1936, a college education was too expensive for the son of a copper miner and the daughter of a plumber.

Eighty years ago, our country was in the middle of the Great Depression and teens took odd jobs to help put food on the table and pay the family bills. In those days no bank would lend money to college students.

Following World War II, there was new hope for veterans, The GI bill paid for veterans to complete their college or trade school education. My father, for example, graduated from trade schools in Seattle and Chicago and became a journeyman electrician thanks to Uncle Sam.

In the 1960s, the federal government introduced the work-study program allowing students from middle and low income families to work their way through college. I found jobs and fortunately didn’t have to borrow money to complete my degree.

Today, it is much difficult story. Student loans are the norm rather than the exception. As a result the student-loan debt has shot past $1.56 trillion spread out among 45 million borrowers. In 2018, nearly 70 percent of college graduates took out student loans and face their careers with an average of $30,000 in debt.

Growing student loan debt is a concern among Americans. “Spurring the free-college movement is the anxiety over the cost of tuition, which has risen at than double the inflation rate since 1990, while student debt has tripled since 2006,” The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Free-college for all would cost a minimum of $75 billion each year if tuition was $4,400 per year, Quillette, an on-line think tank, estimated last September. “That doesn’t pay the bills even for in-state students at many public flagships. The University of Michigan, for example, costs over $15,000 per year for Michigan residents, and about $50,000 for out-of-state students.”

There are a variety of other approaches which can make higher education more affordable.

For example, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, wealthy anonymous donors pooled their money and started a free-college tuition program. It is one of more than 300 cities and states around the country offering a variety of tuition assistance programs.

WSJ reports since 2006, the donors contributed $124 million in tuition subsidies for nearly 5,400 students. The Upjohn Institute, which has been tracking Kalamazoo Promise, found that tuition assistance needs to be augmented with additional student career counseling in the K-12 system and other living costs for students.

Many small business owners in Washington State offer college scholarships and combined them with work and other benefits. Hopefully, the up-front funding offsets the need for loans and make it possible for students to complete their college education or technical skill training.

For example, in Seattle, Dick’s Drive-Ins offers employees who work 20 hours a week for at least six months and continue to work at least 20 hours a week while going to school to have access to a $25,000 scholarship over 4 years. In addition Dick’s pays higher than minimum wage, provides an employer paid health plan, and pays up to $9,000 in child-care expenses.

Other donors are stepping forward. Billionaire Robert Smith, founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, surprised Morehouse College’s 400 graduating seniors announcing his family is paying off their student loans. The estimated value of the gift was $40 million. He also challenged other donors to do the same.

Making higher education affordable is a national priority. The focus needs to be on approaches, which are affordable and effective for students and their families. The issue is large than just having the federal government provide free-tuition for all.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Opinion

A look at the races for the state’s 9 top jobs

Nine of the most powerful political jobs in Washington state will be… Continue reading

Diverse programs serve diverse communities

Waste Management’s outreach programs make waste reduction and recycling accessible to everyone

Amateurism must be maintained to preserve education-based sports

While we addressed a number of important issues with our member state… Continue reading

High costs drive people to move

Too often, elected officials overlook the cumulative costs of regulations, taxes and… Continue reading

This political break-up couldn’t come at a worse time

As backers of I-1000 gear up, a legal spat involving others is casting a shadow on their efforts.

High school football is thriving, not dying

By Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS executive director When the annual High School… Continue reading

Sen. Mona Das. COURESY PHOTO
After a senator’s claim is debunked, a call for an apology

The GOP wants a Democratic senator held to account for accusations which an investigation found to be false

Mitsubishi launching into regional jet space

Traditionally, media coverage of the Paris Air Show focuses on the battle… Continue reading

Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease this Grandparents Day

Pacific Medical Centers doctor shares top signs of the disease, as well as tips to maintain cognitive health

It is time to talk about our national debt

Our nation is on an unsustainable borrowing trajectory and it could get… Continue reading

Libraries are welcoming spaces for everyone

King County Library System is committed to inclusion – the idea that… Continue reading

Gov. Jay Inslee. REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Inslee passes up a chance to confront corporate ‘blackmail’

Governor skipped a meeting about tax breaks, he said, Boeing squeezed out of the state.