D.C. continues to punish students

Andrea Sisney is a senior journalism major and Editor-in-Chief at The Journal

I am a senior this year, and barring some catastrophic miscalculation of my credits or a life-changing sign from above, I will graduate in May. Taking this next step is a source of much anxiety, and even a little excitement, for me.
Unless you spent the summer in a cave, you couldn’t escape the great debt ceiling debate. For weeks it dragged on, with many opinions on how the eventual decision could affect politicians in the upcoming election and very few proposed solutions. It dragged on and on then, finally, a deal was proposed. The plan? Screw the graduate students.
Yes, after much research and debate, America decided to put the brunt of the budget burden on its future workers. The deal aims to reduce U.S. debt by $2.1 trillion dollars. To do this, the government will cut subsidized student loans for graduate students, and end a credit program for students who pay off their loans. The deal will go into effect July 2012, right after Webster University and other colleges say goodbye to that year’s graduating class.
The total toll on graduate students is estimated at $21.6 billion over the next decade. Subsidized student loans saved graduate students from paying interest on their loans until six months after they complete their degree. While in school, the U.S. was paying that interest—now grad students will be required to pay up to $207 a month while putting themselves through graduate programs.
Sure, $17 billion of the subsidized loan cuts will go to Pell Grants, a government program that pays for undergraduate studies, so it’s not so bad, right? Wrong. CNNMoney reported earlier this month that the cuts will eventually cause a shift of $125 billion worth of loans over to unsubsidized. That’s an incredible amount of money. An estimated $18.1 billion price tag for students, to be exact.
As a student who is considering entering graduate school right as these cuts take place, it is disheartening and disappointing to read about them. Through my education at Webster, I have been told repeatedly that the cost of higher education outweighs the cost of no education, that learning is invaluable, and other warm and fuzzy philosophical thoughts about the quest for knowledge.
Apparently, members of Congress missed that message. Instead of placing salary caps on government officials, pulling our military out of expensive foreign wars or repealing the Bush tax cuts that allow the richest members of American society to keep a higher percentage of their earnings, the U.S. is punishing students. In essence, our generation will be expected to help bail the country out of debt twice — once while we are still in school, and then again when we are out of school, using our expensive degrees to boost the economy. Of course, it is worth mentioning that the overwhelming majority of our elected officials are graduate students themselves, mostly from law schools across the country. Talk about job security.
It is a wonder that students contemplate graduate studies at all these days. It feels as if the government would rather pat the backs of Americans who have already struck success, instead of enabling a new group of young people to take this country further than we’ve ever been before. I’m sorry, Washington, but you can’t have it both ways — students are either an integral part of America’s future, or we are pawns in your economic chess game.
Right now, I have no idea if I will go to grad school after this year. But what I do know is that if cuts in education continue, students will have no choice but to stand up for our rights and demand the support and respect we deserve. Student protests in England and France were a direct result of the marginalization of students, and I wonder if it is only a matter of time before these ideals reach the U.S.

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