Does the way to a good life pass through higher education? A recent Bloomberg report found that the average net worth of the oldest millennial generation is more than $ 20,000 lower than that of the oldest baby boomers of the same age. One of the main factors contributing to this generational wealth gap is student debt, which has skyrocketed over the past two decades and is expected to continue to grow. Even as the university has become more expensive, its effect on living standards has increased: as Bloomberg reports, millennials who graduated from college now earn 113% more than their non-graduate peers, while the the income gap between university graduates and non-graduates – baby boomers with a college education was only 57%.
Statistics like this reflect that the university is one of the main drivers of inequality in America today: a college education remains expensive enough that student debt can impoverish borrowers decades after graduation. diploma. But it is still valuable enough that many people choose to attend despite the financial burden. The unaffordable cost of a college education hurts students and teachers alike. As graduate students and labor leaders, we have witnessed firsthand the troubling state of American higher education. Members of our union, Ph.D. students at Brown University, teach many students who pay or borrow huge sums to attend an elite private four-year institution, while many of us will reimburse us. – even our bachelor’s loans for the foreseeable future. Even as the price of a college degree has gotten higher, careers in higher education have become less likely to lead to a living wage, let alone paying off debt or saving money. According to a 2018 analysis, only one in four college teachers has tenure or is in the process of becoming tenured. The rest are short-term casual workers or graduate students like us.
Recognizing that the university has become a factor of inequality means facing three related social crises: the university is too expensive, student debt prevents university graduates from ultimately achieving economic security, and academic working conditions are poor. and get worse. President Joe Biden has rightly made expanding university access a priority, but his current proposal under the American Families Plan to make community colleges free for two years at the nationwide, increasing federal assistance to low-income students, and expanding support to HBCUs, Tribal Colleges, and other institutions serving minorities only address the first of these issues and do so incompletely. Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Pramila Jayapal introduced a law called the College for All Act that would completely transform higher education.
The bill proposes to make colleges affordable for everyone by completely eliminating tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for households with an annual income of $ 125,000 or less and would make colleges community free. Unlike Biden’s plan, which focuses primarily on two-year institutions, the College for All Act promises to reshape the entire higher education landscape by investing heavily in public universities across the country. This bill tackles these additional costs associated with attending college by doubling the maximum amount of Pell Grants and allowing students to use Pell Grants to cover living expenses, such as housing and living expenses. food. This measure tackles the root causes of new student debt by not only eliminating tuition fees, but also limiting the additional expenses that make colleges unaffordable and force students to take on more debt. Biden’s bill would make attending college easier for some, but the Sanders and Jayapal proposal, as the name promises, would enshrine post-secondary education as a basic right for all.
The College for All Act is revolutionary in that it recognizes that the working conditions of college professors are the learning conditions of students. Sanders and Jayapal’s bill states that any college or university receiving federal funding must have 75% of its courses taught by permanent instructors or leading to tenure within five years. This massive investment in secure college faculty jobs would drastically reduce temporary college jobs and push many teachers into the middle class. It would also establish a stable base of teaching and research staff for students entering college, a support system that undergraduates need to learn and thrive.