OPINION: Tuition, Student Loans Perpetuate College Culture Of Elitism


A fake diploma from Pomona College that says "the burden of lots of debt"
Graphic by Sean Ogami

The average cost of attending one of The Claremont Colleges is now around 70,000 dollars for  the 2017-18 academic year. In the three years since I started attending Scripps, the cost per year has gone up by 5,000 dollars, which is a 7.1 percent increase. The cost is blasphemously high, which puts excessive strain on families and could force students to take out loans if their financial need is not met by a package from the school or from other scholarships.

Student loan debt is one of the most important undercovered issues in politics, and as college students, we should actively push our representatives to make this issue a priority. There are two bills on the Senate floor right now that are not currently out of committee. If the election in November pans out in a more progressive direction, like many have predicted it will, there will be a greater chance of providing free or reduced-cost college tuition to students.

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, it placed the allocation of student loans directly on the government via Pell grants and ended private bank subsidies. Until Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, where one of his landmark policy ideas was the College For All Act, this was an issue that had not been in the public discourse for the past eight years.

Part of the reason Sanders got so much support from millennials was because he spoke to issues that would directly impact them, like student loan debt, free and reduced cost college education, and universal health care.

The College For All Act was introduced into the Senate last year and would eliminate tuition and fees at public universities for students whose families made under 125,000 dollars, which is 80 percent of the American population. It would subsidize tuition by taxing Wall Street and redistributing the money from the tax to students in need.

However, college is more expensive than just tuition, and Sanders’ bill does not address other costs like room and board, books, and other living expenses associated with being a student. Senator Brian Schatz PO ’94 introduced a bill called the Debt Free College Act of 2018, where the federal government would match the state provided Pell Grant to an individual attending a public university, which then negates the need for anyone to take out student loans.

In an interview with Vox, Schatz said that “both parties have been running on this [college affordability], and we haven’t done the hard legislative work.” Sanders received criticism in his campaign for the high costs associated with paying for the College For All Act, and Republican politicians have criticized rising student loan interest rates. Education is not a wedge issue.

People in the United States carry 1.3 trillion dollars of student debt, which is second highest to mortgage debt. Free college tuition provided from Sanders’ bill only covers 45 percent of college expenses, and college tuition rises every year when financial aid does not rise proportionally. While these bills do not directly impact private institutions like The Claremont Colleges, they would have a positive impact on our future colleagues, neighbors, and could sway people into choosing different schools based on financial aid and the possibility of a more equitable, lower cost solution to the high cost of being in college.

It is a shame and reflects terribly on the United State’s broken education system that it now may not be economically advantageous for someone to enroll in college because of the amount of debt they could accumulate in order to afford rising costs.

Attending college is theoretically supposed to lead to a higher paying job with more opportunities to become economically successful. However, student loan debt places a huge strain on individual’s finances, and should not preclude people from wanting to attend a dream school.

It is on us, as students, to keep lobbying for this issue and bring awareness to something that many of us face but very few elected officials recognize as legitimate concern. College, just like health care, should be affordable and accessible to all, and not behind an ivory tower of exclusivity and elitism.    

Jo Nordhoff-Beard SC ’19 is an English major from Seattle. She only likes carbonated beverages.

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