Varney And Horowitz Blame Liberal Arts Students For High Student Debt

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Stuart Varney and David Horowitz are having fun in this clip bashing liberals, liberal students, and liberal arts students in particular, for the insane level of outstanding student debt in this country in response to a reasonable proposal by Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) to forgive student loans after students have paid 10 percent of their income for ten years on them. Before I lash them with my mighty keyboard, let's just review some facts about student debt, specifically with regard to public universities. Because I'm from California, I'm going to use California public universities as an example.

In 1960, University of California regents adopted a 246-page master plan for higher education (PDF). Part of that plan expanded on the original master plan for state colleges and universities by providing that every student accepted to a University of California or California State College (back then Cal State schools were colleges, not universities) would be granted a scholarship equal to the costs of their education. In addition, subsistence grants were to be given to students who needed them. Students were selected for admission from the top 1/8th of high school classes for the UC system, and the top 1/3rd of graduating high school classes for the Cal State system.

In other words, students who were California residents and who met the admission requirements would not pay tuition and the state would provide some help with their housing costs if necessary. In fact, that was affirmed in the master plan on page 31, which provides for "the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state."

And then Saint Ronnie was elected Governor in 1966. He set about right away to "clean up" UC Berkeley and get rid of those pesky anti-war protesters. In his view, they should love it or leave it, and if they didn't leave it, he was perfectly willing to price them out of the soon-to-be free university market.

Reagan's war on the UC system was an economic one. If he couldn't tear gas unruly students, he'd just make sure they paid for their education. And with that, he ended free tuition in the UC system. As he brandished his pen, he declared that "the state should not subsidize intellectual curiosity."

Today, the individual costs to students for the state "not subsidizing intellectual curiosity" is about $4,000 per quarter plus living expenses of about $3,000. This is at a University of California system school. For Cal State universities, the costs are about $4,000 per semester plus living expenses of about $4,000 for the same length of time. So for one full school year, a UC school will cost around $27,000 and a year at a Cal State school can range from $8,000 to $16,000, depending on whether the student lives at home. Most UC campuses require at least one year of on-campus living, but Cal State universities have no such requirement.

University endowments, Pell Grants and work-study programs help offset tuition for some students, but come nowhere near the total cost to attend a state university, much less a private one.

That history brings me to this amazing conversation between David Horowitz and Stuart Varney over the "student loan crisis." It is true that student debt balances are high, but that is due to two entirely preventable factors. First, Reagan and his Republican minions used California as the blueprint to destroy public universities across the country, forcing students to take federally guaranteed student loans in order to cover the costs of a higher education.

The whole idea of student loans, by the way, was invented by none other than the Great God of Economists to Republicans, Milton Friedman.

Which is why I am beyond furious to hear a man who received his master's degree in English literature at UC Berkeley say aloud on national cable news that liberal arts students should simply be "disaggregated" from students studying the "scientific courses where you're actually going to get productive jobs" because liberal arts studies are simply "exercises in leftist propaganda." Interesting, too, that he singles out feminist studies as one of those lefty propaganda things.

Varney and Horowitz have framed this argument to set up universities as the villain. First they're "unaccountable" and then they're just useless institutions to spin leftist propaganda, and now, of all things, they want to do it at taxpayers' expense while ignoring the fact that higher education benefits the economy and the workforce as a whole.

While I'm gnawing away at their specious attack on public universities, let's not forget that part of this "unaccountability" comes from entirely unaccountable for-profit colleges, which charge wildly inflated fees with extremely poor outcomes. These "institutions" (and I use the term guardedly) spend millions on television advertising, direct mail campaigns, and other recruiting gimmicks to grab federal dollars from veterans and poor people who cannot and will not be able to afford to repay the loans, even if they're able to get better jobs after they have their piece of paper called a "degree." As Huffington Post observes, students at for-profit colleges are twice as likely to default on their student loans as students from public colleges and universities.

The real travesty here, though, is that students are borrowing money at all for a public education. I can understand making a decision to take out loans for medical or law school, where the prospects of earning a decent living are pretty rosy, but the rising level of student debt gives compelling testimony to the conservative abandonment of education as a public value that the public subsidizes.

It's really cheeky of a guy who got his education at a public university back in the days when we still paid for public university educations to climb up onto his soapbox to pimp his book about university reform which he wrote and gained visibility for because he was educated at one of them. On behalf of struggling students everywhere, I offer him my middle finger, raised high in salute.

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