PSU Vanguard Shield Icon

Matthew Hein:Loans, I will pay you tomorrow

Late last summer, I was hanging out on Orcas Island, simultaneously maxing and relaxing, as I am wont to do on occasion. As those who joined me over summer session here at Portland State may recall, such a luxurious, yet budget-conscious, rejuvenation before fall term was something of a psychological necessity. I won’t go too deeply into the scenario at the natural hot springs up there, but there were these Canadians who have stuck in my memory over the last six months.

I know what you’re saying: Canadians? Memorable? Surely not. And yet … they were. The conversation (it was that kind of hot springs experience) turned – quite naturally – to the subject of health care. And here’s the thing about these Canadians: They weren’t insured.

The 30-something-year-old guys were glad that they had the opportunity to sign up for their nation’s version of “universal” health care, but hadn’t done it. The extra $30 a month ($22 or $23 American) didn’t seem worth it to them.

These fun-loving fellows emerged in my consciousness last week when I read about the British government’s new plan to Americanize their college system. Until a few years ago, England’s university system had survived a great deal – including a decade of Margaret Thatcher – as a relatively expense-free institution. Now, our neighbors across the pond (not Japan, the other pond) seem ready to give something entirely new a try.

The Tony Blair-led Labor Party’s education secretary, Charles Clarke, announced the government’s plan Feb. 22. That just happened to be about the same time U.S. Congressman David Wu stopped by PSU to stump for his triad of financial-aid bills. But I’m getting ahead of myself with this connection between the London plan and debt American style.

It may be best to let the chaps with the Chunnel express the situation in their own words, as reported by Sarah Lyall of the New York Times. Lyall noted in her story that the British plan’s critics, including politicians and students, “denounced the proposals as a sure way to discourage young people from attending college because of fears of amassing huge, American-style student debts.”

Of course, government minister Clarke is responding that charging tuition is the only way to avoid “pressure on staff-student ratios, capital investment and innovation.” In other words, American-style university dilemmas. Perhaps both sides of this anti-American argument need to be educated about one crucial aspect of U.S. college life. Where do the football scholarships and the stadiums named after generous alumni fit into their broad scheme? Well, as long as they don’t let their football players use their hands, I don’t think that they’ll ever produce any wide receivers as great as Lynne Swann.

But I digress. I digress like a Canadian in a natural hot spring, but I segue like a first-district Congressman – did that work okay?

Even if the extremely unlikely occurs and David Wu’s three bills pass through Congress, retain their initial intents through Senate bargaining and actually get signed by President Bush, they won’t make college as cheap for our little brothers and sisters as it was for the “greatest generation” that oversaw the leap in public tuition over the last 35 years. Heck, they won’t even make higher education as reasonable as it was during Reagan’s first term.

They would, however, allow students to pay interest rates on their student loans that aren’t significantly higher than those paid by the rest of the country for their SUVs and suburban homes. If enacted, they would give former students a chance to deduct all of the interest on their loans, even if (and I hope that this never applies to you or anyone you know) that interests totals more than $2,500.

There’s one other little irony here that has nothing to do with Canadians. “The Burden of Borrowing: A Report on the Rising Rates of Student Loan Debt” was published one year ago this month. The composer of this report was the Higher Education Project of the state PIRG’s – that is to say, OSPIRG’s big brother.

Regardless of what happens with OSPIRG at PSU, the organization’s 10-page report will probably continue to make for depressing reading. Why, the whole thing is enough to make one want to drop out of school, adapt a new identity and move … to Canada!