We can think of no greater promise afforded to young citizens of this country than the promise of a quality education, and the prospect of earning at least a modest income as a result of investing the time and money necessary to receive that education.
Unfortunately, rising costs of post-secondary education have rendered this reality to be anything but a promise, and has forced many entrepreneurial students in our state and in all states across the country to forego college entirely or drop out once savings dry up, income turns stagnant or tuition otherwise becomes unsustainable to afford.
Think we’re exaggerating? If you’re a member of a generation that went to college 30 years ago, it’s understandable why you might think so – especially if you haven’t had to send a child off to college or conduct your own research.
According to CNBC, students at public, four-year universities paid an average tuition of $3,190 during the 1987-1988 school year (adjusting for inflation to reflect 2017 dollars). Just 30 years later, that same student would pay almost $10,000 for their tuition today – a 213 percent increase. Private institutions have also gone up, albeit to a lower degree, averaging $15,160 in tuition in 1988 and $34,740 today – a 129 percent increase.
But that’s just the first of a series of economical inequity challenges faced by today’s young adults.
While the economy has added approximately 19.5 million jobs since the Great Recession, wage growth has remained nearly flat. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2018 report, while paychecks have increased numerically in their amounts over the decades, the actual purchasing power of those dollars has remained stagnant, and is virtually equal to what it was 40 years ago.
Just to recap the facts so far – public college costs, on average, well over three times as much as it did 30 years ago, but students and families have the same tangible amount of money to spend on school as somebody who was living and going to school 40 years ago.
The results are as you might expect. Students across the country have accrued a whopping $1.4 trillion in student loan debt – which some economists have targeted as a potential doomsday scenario where even a fraction of those students going into default could cause a larger fiscal bubble to pop.
Well, you may be thinking, maybe this emphasis on college education is the problem. Besides, back in the old days, you could get a great job with just a high school diploma. Unfortunately, this point of view does not hold water in today’s economy, where a recent economic report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce showed that an absurd 99 percent of the new jobs created since the 2010 went to people with either an associate’s, bachelor’s or graduate degree.
So, what is the solution for college students these days? There are really only three, outside of skipping college entirely to either go into the military or try to land an apprenticeship via a skilled trade you develop at a technical high school. You can have your parents or family fund your education, work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet, or you can go into significant loan debt.
These options are signs that something is fundamentally wrong with our higher education system, and it also explains why we are in full support of Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposition to expand the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship to include funding for the third and fourth year of tuition at Rhode Island College.
The majority of arguments against the Promise Scholarship remain the same – and they remain wholly inadequate; largely rooted in cynicism, apathy or outright ignorance.
The Promise Scholarship is fiscally responsible. It is a last dollar scholarship which forces applicants to exhaust all available dollars at their disposal – including federal Pell Grant money – before getting anything from the state. The expansion would cost an estimated $2 million to fulfill, which doesn’t even qualify as a drop in the bucket of a nearly $10 billion budget. As we have calculated, that amounts to two one-hundredths of one percent of the whole budget.
In total, to expand the CCRI Promise to adult learners aged 25 and older, and fund the third and fourth years at RIC, it amounts to about $6 million in the 2020 budget. A pittance, under any evaluation, for the economic impact it may have on the state.
More educated workers can be a draw to businesses. Less student loan debt enables students and graduates to actually invest money into the economy – to buy a home or a car or just have some spending money – because they wouldn’t have to pay $280 each month, which is the average loan payment for today’s graduates.
The Promise expansion also has good evidence that it will work, as seen through a more than 100 percent increase in enrollment at CCRI – which includes a 143 percent increase in low-income students and 164 percent increase in students of color – since the inception of Promise last year. In addition, the school has seen four times the number of students on track to graduate.
There is simply no adequate argument against helping students level the playing field that has been, throughout the decades, immensely stacked against them. It is not a handout, as students at RIC must fund their own way for two years, maintain a 2.5 GPA and take a full-time course load to be eligible. The scholarship does not enable students to go for free at CCRI and then transfer to RIC to get their final two years for free either, as some have suggested. Additionally, 70 percent of RIC graduates stay in Rhode Island, so arguing they’ll take the money and run is not supported by the facts either.
Investing in our young people is a no brainer, and for this modest cost, it is an investment we would be painfully mistaken not to fund.