At a time when the cost of higher education is dramatically increasing and student debt to pay that cost is increasing as well, we continue to pay witness to a flawed system–one that fails to promote equality for all economic classes. Accordingly, we are faced with the challenge of addressing the problem. In debating the solutions to this persistent problem, we can use our learnings from lecture, specifically John Rawls’ theory of justice, to better analyze our correct course of action. In doing so, we must take into account all sides of the argument, both those least-advantaged in the college system and those university officials who run the college system.
Earlier today, Education Secretary Erne Duncan delivered a speech encouraging officials in higher education to “think more creatively — and with much greater urgency — about how to contain the spiraling costs of college and reduce the burden of student debt on our nation’s students.”
With the Occupy Wall Street movement dominating the news and Duncan’s recent call for urgent action, it seems as if the problem with college costs and student loans is being pushed to the forefront of national concern. Recently, there have been protests regarding the rise in college costs in both New York and California by students hailing from the City University of New York and UCLA. Secretary Duncan proclaims that, “Three in four Americans now say that college is too expensive for most people to afford” (Duncan). Accordingly, Mr. Duncan has alerted the general public to the need for change and has lauded the success that the Obama administration has had in increasing student aid and making student debt more manageable.
Obama has been proactive in his efforts to minimize student debt by instituting expanded income-based repayment plans and a new debt-consolidation program (Lewin). This in reaction to government assuming the burden of too much student debt–debt that has become too difficult to pay off. A recent article stated that government accounted for about one third of undergraduate grant aid about a decade ago. Today, the government accounts for over half of undergraduate grant aid (Lewin). Thus, Mr. Duncan discussed the Education Department’s talks with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about creating a financial aid shopping sheet, or model disclosure form (Lewin). This form would essentially help students understand and compare the different types of available aid packages. In addition, Duncan cited the few schools such as Duquesne University, University of Oregon, and the University of Charleston, which have offered discounts on tuition and fees for incoming freshman and transfer students. Secretary Duncan has made decreasing college costs and student debt a well deserved priority.
Secretary Duncan’s recent speech is a significant step towards ameliorating the growing problem of increasing higher education costs nationwide. I am sensitive and sympathetic to the struggles of many of my contemporaries in affording college tuition, obtaining financial aid and paying down student loans. It is apparent to us all that the problem is real and needs to be addressed. While the Obama administration is making advances in reducing student debt, more needs to be accomplished regarding the spiking costs of tuition and fees associated with higher education, perhaps through legislation. The institutions of higher education must confront this issue and implement the necessary changes to make an education more affordable to all. Failing that, government may need to step in and consider ways to reform the system.
The inordinate rise in college costs have undoubtedly disadvantaged those most in need,namely, the poor. Accordingly, the competitive nature of the college process has become unfair and those most in need have been denied equal access to education. As discussed in lecture, John Rawls theory of justice asserts that actions should be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society and that the opportunity to hold office and position of authority be fairly available to all. So what would Rawls’ take be on Duncan’s speech?
It remains obvious to me that Rawls would agree with Secretary Duncan’s speech. Decreasing college costs across the board is an action that is of the greatest benefit to the least advantaged members of society. However, I think he would push even further in declaring that even if a dramatic decrease in college costs were to happen, there would still be a limit on who could attend college, and we would still be left with an unequal and unfair system. His argument would entail the notion that the government had originally instituted a college system that was advantageous towards those better off in society. However, the counterargument elicits that while colleges and universities do their best in helping out the least-advantaged members of society through financial aid and scholarships, they must place a larger emphasis on their ability to improve their own institution as to benefit both themselves and the rest of society. Accordingly, in trying to fully meet the demands of the least-advantaged members of society, university officials compromise their own ability to maximize the wellbeing of their own institution, and thus is the reason for not always focusing on the least-advantaged members of society.
For these reasons, I evidence that Rawls would undoubtedly be unhappy with the college system. He might explain that those who do have the ability to attend college may be a result of their unearned privilege in being born to a family that is capable of paying for college. And, those who are not afforded that privilege might be a result of the underprivileged family that they were born into. Thus, the creation of the college system is inequitable because it creates an environment that is favorable to those who are brought up with unearned privileges. However, many environments like these seem to infiltrate our contemporary society. Maybe, an environment that promotes equality and disregards the need for unearned privileges is our utopian environment, one that is ostensibly too good to be true.
In any case, despite Rawls’ take on the situation, the circumstances of increasing college costs still lingers and our solution towards that problem remains to be seen. The questions still persist: what is the right balance between money and equality? Do you agree with Rawls? How can we be inclusive of the majority while still demanding money for higher education? Or should we allow those unable to pay for college to attend without any monetary requisites, or is that too radical? Where do we stand and how do we fix the problem?