College Costs in the Spotlight for Oregon and New Jersey. Political and Academic Leaders Seek to Lower College Costs but Whose New Idea is a Unremitting and Whose is Determined?

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Solutions from political and academic leaders both frame hope.  But the government is capable of acting more broadly, providing more uniform standards that encourage competition and adherence to best practices.  In the long run, that can help every American attending a college or university.  In the short run, however, schools can only offer assistance to their own students, and are capable of doing so much more quickly than in the government.  The fight against student debt and rising tuition, or any tuition is not limited to private universities.  In Oregon, for example state legislature passed a bill on July 1st to investigate how to implement a “Pay it Forward, ay it Back” PIF tuition plan, which would allow students at Oregon’s public universities to attend college without paying first, as long as they agreed to pay up to three percent of their income for 20 years after graduating.  In New Jersey, we are told by politicians that it is expensive to be wrong or it is important to have your first school be the right one.  At the very least, a low graduation rate should cause you to ask, Why is that? 

Interestingly enough there are variations among New Jersey’s roughly two dozen four year colleges.  For example, the cost of attending Rutgers University is broken down by its three campuses, something not seen on most college-shopping resources, which often focuses solely on the New Brunswick camps. Camden is the cheapest, Newark in the middle, and New Brunswick the most expensive.  Fairleigh Dickinson University shows a sharp contrast in cost between its Teaneck or Metropolitan campus and its Florham Park campus. The typical cost for a Teaneck student has been roughly $8,000 less than the cost of attending in Florham Park.  The difference is mostly because of housing costs.  Far more students live on-campus in Florham Park or 70 percent than in Teaneck or 40 percent.  In addition, the Teaneck campus plays Division I sports, so it offers athletic scholarships.  The Florham campus is Division II, with no scholarships.  In July, Rutgers New Brunswick board voted 7-2 to approve a tuition hike for undergraduates, along with a 1.5 percent increase in room and board costs.  The tuition increase means the average in-state Rutgers undergraduate will pay $13,499 in tuition and fees for the 2013-14 school year, or $427 more than last year.  Once room and board are added in, the total cost of attending Rutgers will rise 2.4 percent to $25,077 or $592 more than last year.  Rutgers also increased its financial aid program to help needed students over tuition hikes by more than 10 percent to $30.5 million.  Under Oregon’s plan, Oregon residents could enroll at any state institution for free.  Then, upon graduation, they would be obligated to pay a portion of their income for 24 years or so.  The plan’s appeal is that it doesn’t penalize students for choosing careers that don’t pay enormous sums.  No longer would you graduate with, let’s say, an art history degree and be $100,000 in debt.  And supporters of Oregon’s plan say the obligation would not, in a legal sense, qualify as debt at all.  That means it wouldn’t count against a graduate credit rating when he or she tries to buy a house or obtain some other loan.  Critics say students who major in subjects that promise high incomes would likely find other kinds of financing, leaving the program with a lot of low earners who won’t generate enough money to make the program pay for itself. 

Starting in 2014, a student at Rutgers University’s College of arts and Sciences at New Brunswick, who is on the most popular meal and housing plan, will have to shell out $25,007 for a single year.  In the case of Rutgers, in-state tuition has doubled since 2001, when annual tuition and fees totaled $6,654.  The state of Oregon believes it has such a common-sense solution to providing affordable college tuition tied to some sort of repayment plan that does not break the bank for college graduate.  There is a repayment component, and it is creative, if nothing else.  How does the proposed deal look from a cash perspective?  Consider college graduate who earns $600,00 over approximately 25 years .  At a 3% repayment rat, the cost of that college education in Oregon would cost $18,000.  There is a lot at stake for stake universities co-operating with the Oregon plan that have some namesake in the game. If they keep producing dropouts or graduates who don’t work full time after graduation and earn a healthy income then the state doesn’t get a return on its investment, leading potentially to a collapse of the entire system.  But, we cannot forget that Obama can make his own higher-ed plan work without Congress.  And here is how. 

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Only half of it needs congressional approval and it’s the half that comes later, and that can be done quicker.  The Obama administration doesn’t need congressional approval to build the performance measures. That something the department of Education can do on its own.  We need to ask ourselves, so what Obama is really promising to get done in his second term.  Is it to create the infrastructure necessary for a pay-for-performance system or the definition of performance and the routine collection of the underlying data.  Obama’s backup plan on colleges is that this data on tuition, graduation and retention rates, student makeup and graduates’ earnings help determine how much federal money he colleges receive.  The fact of the matter is that New Jersey has cut funding for higher education by 27 percent since 2008 when adjusted for inflation, a loss of more than $2,500 per student.  During that time, public college tuition had increased 13 percent, adjusted for inflation, more than $1,400 per student and the rising tuition costs come at time when household incomes are not keeping pace, making access to education less affordable.  Despite the prevailing mythology that tax rates are the major factor in business location decisions, the evidence is overwhelming that it is quality of the workforce that is most important.  Nothing better measures workforce quality than educational levels, which is one of New Jersey’s greatest, but largely ignored assets.  The major concern is that you shouldn’t have to borrow six figures to get a college education.  Taxpayers need to reassure lawmakers to keep school tuition low. This year in New Jersey, state aid to higher education fell 7.8 percent nationally but administrative bloat and bureaucratic empire building.  When you take out a $35,000 loan at 10.7 percent interest that is not smart.  But the most onerous thing about excessive student debt may not be the payments.  For years, we have heard that a student loan is a good form of debt because repayment does not start immediately, it is the worst because you do not ever get out from under it.  The upside for Oregon’s Tuition-Free Approach is through an appealing progressive streak.  Future One Percenters will pay the most for their educations.  Graduates that find themselves devoting themselves to low-pay careers like teaching, will pay the least.  Meanwhile, the system’s ‘system’ might encourage poor students to reach for better, more selective colleges. 

I believe that low-income students are discouraged from applying to top schools by so-called sticker-shock.  They see the astronomical advertised prices of tuition at State University and assume they cannot afford it, even if the admission office promises that they’ll provide ample financial aid.  Part of the problem may be that poor and working class families have little trust in large, unfamiliar institutions.  Lastly, the program could potentially enforce some spending disciplines on Oregon’s colleges.  Without the ability to raise tuition, schools will be forced to clamp down on their most profligate habits.  Because Pay It Forward wouldn’t eliminate student debt completely, it might inadvertently make college less financially manageable for some students.  At the same time, it could drive the most talented young people out of the state college system altogether.  And, to top it all off, the whole plan might be financially unsustainable for the state.  Today, in Oregon, financially troubled federal loan borrowers have the option of wrapping all their debts into an income-based repayment program that aps their monthly bill at 10 percent of discretionary earnings, It a great safety net for Oregon, but under Pay It Forward, BA’s from Oregon would still have to pay additional 3 percent of their income, for 24 years.  I believe that New Jersey shares this counterargument of ending tuition as we know it, which would free students to spend their financial aid money on living expenses.  For example, federal Pell Grant recipients could use their awards to cover housing instead of course credits. The problem still is that most students do not get a Pell Grant.  Most students would still face a very real possibility of having to borrow.  We need to remember that for both New Jersey and Oregon, the system assumes that high-earning students will balance-out low-earning ones.  By cutting the high-earners out of the equation, students will suddenly need to pay a higher percentage of their income to keep the system solvent. 

In 2012, New Jersey experienced a ’brain drain’ period where the percentage of high school students who chose to attend college outside the state occurred.  The new law in New Jersey changes the STARS program or the New Jersey Student Assistance Reward Scholarship, an initiative created by the State of New Jersey that provides New Jersey’s highest achieving student with free tuition and approved fees at their home county college.  This June 2013, Governor Christie however, introduced new vocational scholarships program which are the first provided by the state for non-degree programs, that are becoming increasingly important or both job seekers and those already holding positions. A total of $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded each year by the state’s Higher education Student Assistance Authority using a portion of funds that the New Jersey Schools Development Authority is required to set aside from each of its construction contracts for training programs for women and minorities. 

In New Jersey, parents are responsible to pay for their children’s college expenses.  Blow is a breakdown of financially capable parents by law who must contribute to college costs and how I consider each to be quantified as positive versus negative in terms of stress created on the student. 

Figure 1a.  Allocation of Responsibility Between Parents

Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education

Con (the child should be responsible enough to have started to work after college and have set up a financial payment plan)

The effect of the background values and goals of the parents on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education

Pro (a student’s background values stick with him/her for life)

The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education

Pro (any amount sought by the child will be unrealistic until graduating with a job in hand)

The ability of the parent to pay that cost

Con (the parent should get a college fund together long before the question of whether to pay introduces itself)

The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of stud sought by the child

Pro (the relations of school course and child is predetermined based on grades and test scores)

The financial resources of both parents

Con (the financial acuity of parents can be seen as a negative y the student who wishes to have more responsibility upon graduation)

The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education

Pro (the commitment of a student to be involved in earning about how to pay for things will become increasingly important)

The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or truest

The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation

The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans

The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance

The relationship of the education requested to ay prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child

Con (the financial assets of the child will not be rowing significantly under a job is found)

 

Pro (the ability to start earning up till graduation is up to the student on an individual basis)

Pro (the availability of financial aid is up to government to introduce and amend)

Con (the child’s relationship to paying parent does not mean a quicker response to pay off a loan)

 

 

Con (the relationship of the education is not going to have as much of a salience characteristic until a job’s demands are met.)

 

 

Concluding Thoughts:

As students, faculty and activists at public and private universities across the country know all too well, that debate is urgent.  While governments decrease funding and schools gift costs onto students, the idea that higher education could be free, an idea that New Jersey and Oregon students are holding close, is drifting far from reach.  If Oregon is the precursor, then New Jersey would not be the first state to explore the idea of delaying tuition payments. In my opinion, it simply would be the self-sustaining last to those students starting to pay it back.

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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