Rising debt means rising complexities

Shane Wade
Opinion Editor

In a changing higher education marketplace, colleges around the country are attempting to adapt to incoming students by changing policies to be more receptive and efficient, particularly in regards to reaching the goal of graduating students in a four-year period.

One institution, College of the Ozarks, a private Missouri college, has adapted their policies so drastically that they are no longer accepting students who take out private student loans.

The circumstances regarding financial aid at Ozarks, however, are unique; all students work at on-campus facilities or departments to pay their tuition. Jerry Davis, Ozarks’ president, asserts that through their policy, they’re looking out for all students.

For students graduating in an unfavorable economy, student debt threatens to follow them like a reaper. In Virginia alone, 59 percent of students graduate with debt. At a time where over two-thirds of undergraduate students are taking out loans, graduates are averaging at just a little more than $22,000 in debt and Americans owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt, according to Daily Finance, exclusionary policies like this might seem appealing to institutions looking to lower student debt.

While the policy may be based on good intentions, it makes for bad practice and a bad model to emulate, particularly for public institutions.

Such a policy disenfranchises students with academic potential, but without college funds.

In the past, we were told that as long as we worked hard, we could go to college. But the reality is that merit only won’t carry one’s weight. The policy, albeit on a small scale, perpetuates the American class war within higher education.

It also excludes international students that are unable to qualify for certain scholarships for a variety of reasons. That exclusion affects the diversity on campus, a factor usually highlighted as a selling point by officials looking to attract students.

The policy in place at Ozarks isn’t a solution to the student debt crisis, but it does function as a foundation for us to begin a conversation within our homes and begin a cost-benefit analysis of higher education. At what opportunity cost are we willing to enroll in and graduate from college with no student debt. Is it really possible?

Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly apparent that higher education in America is a cult of exclusivity, despite all attempts to increase funding to students, engage in outreach programs, perform studies that attest to the sociocultural value of a college education and advertise the immense job outlook differences between college graduates and high school graduates.

Universities in America, particularly private ones, are on a precipice that will determine their future trajectory. All options are on the table and are open for discussion.

But at the heart of that discussion, whether it takes place at home, in the media or within administrative meetings, we must address the philosophical nature of our questioning: Is higher education an economic necessity or a luxurious privilege?

It’s great to see a university actively taking an interest in the financial well-being of students, pre-enrollment, but it’s also disheartening because the policy suggests that only those who can afford to should go to college.

These seemingly unusual practices and policies will become more mainstream in the coming years, as universities adjust to the new higher education marketplace. To solidify that point, three weeks ago, some VCU students received an electronic survey concerning “important research about tuition costs and course-taking.”

Being a public university protects us from sudden and radical changes like the one Ozark has implemented, but we should still take this opportunity to be attentive to the fact that we are at the whims of the invisible hand at work within the economy.

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