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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Poor People at SLU? Never!

I've noticed a common theme that seems to resurface in the comments section of TBOC! On many different posts, people always ask what we're doing at SLU if we don't like it, or they call us 'public school trash,' or they call us hypocritical for critiquing wealthy SLU students when we ourselves are privileged enough to be there. I will readily admit that I am extremely privileged, but I would not be at St. Lawrence without a hefty financial aid package and a merit scholarship.

But, just for fun, let's look at a concept; it's been discussed on TBOC! before, but I'll explain it once again, in the simplest terms possible. Because our education system is funded with property taxes, schools in poor neighborhoods can't afford things like adequate facilities, text books, or teachers in any large quantity. Classrooms are overcrowded, and students of these schools tend to receive inadequate educations. Because of the structures of racism which underlie America (namely capitalism), these poor communities tend to contain large concentrations of non-white people. But let's not bring the race card up this time, let's play "color-blind" (like the SLU administration).

People from poor communities are disadvantaged at the high school level, and as such they are disadvantaged when it comes to colleges and universities. Sometimes a few poories will slip through the cracks and make it into a school like SLU, so we jack up the prices, making it hard for even those with scholarships to attend. We have to pay our tuition and fees at the beginning of each semester, but since most people cannot come up with such a large sum of money at one time, they are forced to take out loans. The loans must be repaid at high interest rates, meaning that students who don't get help from Mommy and Daddy are constantly in debt.

Does it have to be this way? In a recent conversation, one source told us about the education system in Australia. Granted, Australia is a third-world, poverty stricken country, yet their system is far superior to that in the United States. (Kidding about the poverty stricken thing. Australia is strikingly similar to the United States. They also re-elected a leader--John Howard, the Prime Minister--who is one of George W. Bush's lapdogs.) First of all, the education system is not reliant on property taxes. Schools are funded generally equitably by the government. Although the system is still not perfect (that pesky race business again), it evens the playing field in a way that the United States could not even imagine.

When it comes to higher education in Australia, there is an impressive system in place. It is called HECS, or the Higher Education Contribution Scheme. What this is, basically, is a loan from the Australian government that covers tuition. This loan is interest-free, and doesn't need to be repaid until your income rises above $AU35,000 per year. Paying it off early means a 20% discount, and the loan doesn't cover housing or other living expenses, so those wealthy elites are still advantaged, but not as obviously.

What this means is that in Australia, an English-speaking, capitalist country that follows the U.S. where ever we go, almost anyone can receive some form of higher education. And when they leave, they don't have a debt that starts immediately, even when they are trying to establish themselves in a job and a living situation. Rather, they can settle down first, and when they reach a comfortable (although still a low) income, they start paying back their education debts. Moreover, these debts are interest free, unless you count inflation as interest. There are flaws with HECS, and wealthy (white) people are advantaged in much deeper ways, but at least on the surface it is infinitely better than what we have in the U.S.

Why can't we have a system like this in the United States? Are we afraid people will cheat the system? It seems highly unlikely that someone is going to stay at a low income level just to avoid repaying debts. Are we afraid of seeming too soft? I will admit, it does seem like a system set up by those Damn Commies. What seems most likely to me is that the wealthy elites don't want to give everyone an equal opportunity. Afterall, who wants places like St. Lawrence to be overrun with poor people?

2 Comments:

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