Take Back America? Debt for Diplomas

By Andre Banks Jun 19, 2007

So I’m at this Take Back America conference and decided to blog a few of the sessions. I’m checking out Making College Affordable right now and later I’ll follow ColorLines publisher Rinku Sen in her plenary Poverty and Politics, Katrina’s Clarion Call. I’m also gonna check-in later on Edwards and Obama’s appearances this afternoon. You can check out the link above for all the participant bios, but here I’m going to jump in and raise some high points. This conference is famous for being strategically silent on race, so my job is to correct that mistake by bringing race into focus on some critical issues. Tamara Draut, author of "Strapped: Why America’s 20 and 30-somethings can’t get ahead" is talking about the debt for diploma system at our nation’s colleges. Basically, there’s been a shift in the financial aid system to rely much more heavily on putting students in debt rather than providing access to grants. Of course, when you look closely, it turns out that the people most "strapped" by student loan debt are Pell, need-based grant recipients, ie kids who need the most financial assistance leave school saddled with crushing debts. And though she didn’t say it explicitly, those students are disproportionately kids of color, making the debt system a key question for racial justice advocates. She didn’t really offer any plans though. (Begin shameless plug) But our parent org has been doing some really cutting edge work in California to support new legislation to improve college access.. So this young Black teacher from Alabama, Jeffrey Daniels who is repping the NEA, just gave a cool presentation connecting the student debt crisis to the absence of quality teachers in our schools. From his press release:

Daniels received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2005 from Alabama A&M UNiversity and owes more than $30,000 in student loans. By the time he completes his master’s degree at Alabama A & M, Daniels will owe more than twice that amount. A starting teacher in Alabama earns $28,000. "Unfortunately, the joy that comes from teaching doesn’t pay the bills," Daniels said.

I think he and the panel brought up an important point: no school is affordable anymore. Sure, the Ivy’s have always been the playground of the rich, but now, even a student going to his state’s large public university can’t get that paper without going broke. So I have a question: "What’s up with this diversion of public education dollars toward career/vocational tech, usually followed with an argument that kids of color don’t want to go to college, despite all polls which suggest exactly the opposite? Is that conversation happening in Washington, D.C.?" Unfortunately, every person with a question in the room got called on but me. I’m resisting the urge to go take it/get personal. It’s still too early in the morning…..More to come.