The rising cost of higher education is one of the main ailments affecting America. The earnings differential between those with college degrees and those without has become greater during this recession. This is because the recession hit jobs like construction, which don’t require a college degree, especially hard.
So as college becomes more expensive and more important, it becomes harder for the poor to climb the economic ladder. American inequality is a fundamental problem today, and the rising cost of college doesn’t help.
With this context in mind, I recently had the displeasure of reading one of the most heartless articles I’ve ever looked at. This article, by conservative commentator Michael Barone, argued that the rising cost of college is due to government subsidies. Specifically, college is so expensive because the government keeps on giving money to poor people so that they can attend college:
…government has been subsidizing higher education with low-interest college loans, Pell grants, and cheap tuitions at state colleges and universities.
The predictable result is that higher education costs have risen much faster than inflation, much faster than personal incomes, much faster than the economy over the past 40 years.
What is Mr. Barone’s presumed solution? Stop giving federal aid to poor people who want to attend college! After all, “government subsidies can go too far.”
Firstly, Mr. Barone is wrong on why college costs are rising so exponentially. The value of “government subsidies” has in fact gone down as college tuition has risen. The federal Pell Grant gives low-income students money to attend college. When it was first introduced in 1979, it covered three-fourths the cost of the typical four-year university. Today it covers only about one-third the cost of a typical four-year university. For private universities, it amounts to barely more than one-tenth the cost.
But that’s almost beside the point. What this article really brought to mind is my fundamental problem with conservatism and the Republican Party. Mr. Barone’s article lacks a single note of empathy for the poor. Indeed, in today’s political climate, conservatives have actually made the phrase “helping the poor” sound like a bad thing.
And this pattern is not just related to the poor. It always seems that conservatives and Republicans are against actions helping those society has left behind – whether it be minorities, immigrants, the poor, women, or whomever. Fundamentally, and to speak impolitely but honestly, they just don’t give a damn about anybody unlike themselves.