Meet Virginia Foxx. Sadly, I couldn’t find a porn star who shared her name, and trust me, I looked. Come on, internet, help a sister out!
Virginia Foxx is a Republican Congresswoman from North Carolina. She is also the chairwoman on the house Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. Pretty badass, right? Here’s what she said on a recent radio show:
“I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that. I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ You don’t sit on your butt and have it dumped in your lap.”
Isn’t that fun? Just as an aside, let’s remember that she graduated from UNC in 1968. The rate of college tuition has far exceeded the rate of inflation, so this is not just a simple case of “back in the day a soda cost a nickel.”
Let’s give Ms. Foxx the benefit of the doubt and assume that her bottom line is more students getting more education. After all, if that’s not her goal, than perhaps this particular subcommittee is not such a great fit. With that in mind, what do you make of her comments?
Here’s one perspective, which I’m going to offer with the opening caveat that I know I am very, very lucky. I have two parents with advanced degrees. I went to a top ten private University that cost about $45K per year. I graduated in four years. For the first half of college, I worked one job 12 hours per week. For the second half of college, I worked two jobs for a combined 20 hours per week. I also made the Dean’s list. The combined debt shared between my (generous) parents and me is upwards of $60K.
Now, did I have to go to a top ten school? No. The University of Massachusetts is a very reputable institution and would have cost me a fraction of the price. But, let’s not pretend there are not substantial advantages to going to the “best” colleges you can get into (a distinction I’m well aware is subjective).
The undergrad alma maters of our current Supreme Court justices are Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford, Stanford, Holy Cross, Cornell, Princeton, Princeton, Princeton. The most commonly held Bachelor’s degree in the 111th Congress? Harvard. Is politics the only arena in which to be successful? Of course not, but look across leadership platforms in virtually any industry, and you will see top-tier, expensive college degrees. In other words, we are not wrong to encourage students to shoot for the stars. More importantly, we are not wrong to encourage poor students to shoot for the stars. And at the moment, the stars tend to cost a lot of money.
Do we think that state universities provide the same caliber of education as elite private colleges? U.S. News and World Report (one of many list-makers) doesn’t have a single public school in its top 20. To be comfortable with that path, we need public schools to be provide the same level of opportunity as their private peers. And some do. But, what if you’re a stellar student who lives in a state without a stellar state run university system? Your choices are to pay out of state tuition to a well-regarded state school (with loans), pay private tuition (with loans), or suffer your not-so-great in-state option.
I’m starting to ramble, I know. So let me summarize: Ms. Virginia Foxx, we can all agree that the higher education needs some serious revamping. We need high caliber programs and training available to more students at a cost that doesn’t bankrupt families. But, that is no excuse for the tsk tsk-ing, condescending, finger-pointing bullshit you just pulled. Do not think that students and families enter into that kind of debt lightly. Your “tolerance” is the last thing on their minds when they are facing some pretty tough decisions.
Related Post: Alfie Kohn sums up all the problems with test-based education.
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