The Weight of One Trillion Dollars
That debt is a heavy burden on individual students. All their lives, they’ve been told that a college education is critical to their future prosperity. Now, they’re buried under tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and the job prospects are so dismal that they have no idea how they’ll pay it back.
This staggering news has given people an opportunity to misplace the blame—for instance, the Oregonian Editorial Board and the Sallie Mae corporation have put the blame on parents and students, who they think should do more and earlier financial planning.
While financial planning is certainly important, this focus ignores completely the two main reasons for skyrocketing student debt: Tuition increases, and far fewer grant and scholarship opportunities.
In Oregon, years of ongoing state budget cuts to our colleges and universities has led to a steep increase in tuition and other fees. According to the Oregon University System, Oregon now ranks 45th in the country in per-pupil spending on higher education. That means that only five states in the entire country invest less in their colleges than we do.
And that means that the costs are falling right onto the backs of students and their families. As the State of Oregon invests less and less in higher education, students and families have to take on more and more of the cost. Take a look at this chart, showing the increase in tuition for resident undergrad students at Oregon’s universities. We put in a line that tracks inflation so you can compare.
The defunding of our colleges and universities is yet another way we’re making decisions that don’t uphold our values and our priorities as a state. The cost of that decision is being paid right now by middle-class students, but we’ll all pay the price in the future when our economy gets hit by even higher levels of student debt.