How Special Interests Hampered Student Loan Reform

This whole Gaypril Walker Wall situation is a disgrace, and at this point, I am not sure with whom I should be more frustrated. To me, it represents not one, but two pressing issues of insensitivity and ignorance at Pomona College. The first is obvious: the painting of homophobic, sexist, racist, and otherwise intolerant images and phrases on Walker Wall clearly represents a segment of the population at Pomona that is blatantly insensitive to others. The second issue, however, seems to escape everyone but me: the QRC and Allies’ painting of Walker Wall and handling of the graffiti is equally insensitive to the views of their opposition as well as to the views of all those who expressed themselves on Walker Wall pre-rainbow.

I see no reason that the QRC and Allies are entitled to oppress the views of all those before them by painting over the entirety of Walker Wall. By painting the whole wall, the QRC showed me that they, like the bigots who followed, attribute very little importance and respect to the views and beliefs of others. Sure, they did not write anything offensive, but by monopolizing the wall, they were assuming their celebration to be of greater value than all other political, social, economic, or personal views on campus combined. The Pomona College website describes Walker Wall as a “lively, freewheeling forum”—a description surely not depicted by the single-issue rainbow wall.

My distaste for the rainbow wall does not diminish my distaste for the bigotry shown by the graffitists. (Disclaimer: I never actually saw what the QRC When Congress passed the health-care bill, a momentous education reform followed. Signed into law by President Barack Obama, its intention was to help relieve the ever-rising burden imposed on students by soaring college fees and tuition rates.This reform was funded by ending a government subsidy to big banks that provided student loans. Under the previous system, the government ensured that these student lenders would always make money; if students defaulted on their loans, the government would pay the money to the student lenders. In a “60 Minutes” report, think-tank expert Michael Dannenberg characterized this as a “socialist-like system. It’s not as if this private entity is assuming any risks. No, no, no. The law makes sure that this so-called private entity has virtually no risk.”Unfortunately for students, this lucrative government-funded industry did relatively little to benefit them. Take a look at Sallie Mae, perhaps the biggest player in the student loan industry. Sallie Mae’s loans carry a variable interest rate, which currently hovers around 10.55 percent, in addition to a disbursement fee of 3 percent. Other banks charge similar fees.Such practices can make already-high student debt astronomical. Take Brit Napoli, a student who originally borrowed $38,000. According to the “60 Minutes” report, that loan has ballooned to $71,000. College graduate Lynnae Brown’s $60,000 loan jumped to an astounding $262,383 after she fell behind in payments.Education reform was intended to help people like Napoli and Brown. Subsidies for big banks and corporations like Sallie Mae ended. Funds for poor people to attend college were expanded. Money was even saved by ending these government subsidies.

Yet special-interest groups fought every step of the way. They lobbied. They waved cash at senators. They argued that their jobs were at stake (and therefore the bill would “take away jobs”) and that teenagers deserved more choices. In the end, they succeeded in vastly weakening the original ambitions embodied in education reform.The original bill envisioned a rise in the maximum amount of a Pell Grant—federal money for low-income students to attend college—from $5,350 today to $6,900 in 2019. Interest on federal student loans was to remain relatively low: 3.4 percent past 2012 (compare that with Sallie Mae’s 10.55 percent). Money was to be invested in early childhood education, community colleges (the American Graduation Initiative), and a College Access and Completion Fund. Federal Perkins Loans were to be reformed “to reward institutions for their success in graduating low-income students.”

But by the time special interests were done with the bill, almost all of this was gone. That increase in Pell Grants? It’s now only up to $5,975, or a paltry $62.50 per year. In other news, Pomona College increased its fees by an estimated $2,286 for the 2010-2011 year (for a total cost of $54,318).

As for federal student loans, the interest rate will go right back up to 6.8 percent in 2013. Investment in community colleges was cut by 80 percent. Reform of Perkins Loans, investment in early childhood education, and the College Access and Completion Fund were scrapped altogether.

This is not to say that education reform has been a miserable failure. Without it, things would be far worse. The maximum Pell Grant would have decreased to $2,150, or four percent of the cost of attending Pomona for one year. In this version of the bill, community colleges still get some money. Investment in historically black colleges hasn’t been cut. The government will no longer protect lenders who prey on unsophisticated students.

But boy, did the special interests succeed in gutting a wonderful bill. The saddest part, moreover, is that their efforts were largely in vain. All the lobbying and all the money thrown at senators like Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad only served to delay the bill. The government subsidies which Sallie Mae so desperately protected are gone. In the end, the only thing the special interests were able to do was make college more unaffordable for millions of poor Americans.stated to be “homophobic, racist and sexist” comments on the wall. So, I can’t actually verify that they exist and all I can see now are the Bev Scavvy things. I am simply assuming that the QRC wouldn’t go so far as to make a big fuss calling things homophobic and racist and such if they weren’t.) While I do not harbor any disdain for homosexuality, I do understand and respect (while not agreeing with) the view that it is immoral. A devoutly religious man who accepts the texts of Leviticus or Romans without question would surely feel the celebration of homosexuality is ridiculous, at best, if not downright sinful. As such, he might be inclined to voice his opinion in opposition of such a celebration, and he would in no way be out of line to voice said opinion on Walker Wall. Perhaps he would aptly cite Leviticus 18:22 or Romans 1:26-27, or he might find another way to express his beliefs in a coherent fashion. Such a person—even if I disagreed with him—would be the kind of person I would be proud to have as a member of my community. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. Rather than presenting original views in a civilized, educated manner, painters reduced their opinions to drunken scrawling. Such classless bigotry only makes worse what I already thought to be a poor representation of Walker Wall.

Only a short while ago, Walker Wall represented the diverse views of the student body. It represented our free expression. It was not a resource monopolized by any one group—not the QRC and definitely not the responding bigots. So perhaps some good can come of this debacle. Perhaps we may learn that we do not wish to be a school that supports oppressing or diminishing the views of others—whether out of pride or hate. Let us learn that we may show our pride and our disapproval in a civilized and reasonable fashion—one befitting of the great community that is Pomona College.

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