Multiple news media outlets recently reported the interaction between GOP candidate Mitt Romney and a struggling college student, regarding the cost of an affordable 21st Century education. Mitt responded as follows:
“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that. Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”
As a result of this comment, Mitt has been severely criticized by those of the political left as being uncaring and out of touch with the American middle class. I read a well written article by Rebecca Sarwate, in a popular Internet blogging site, that criticized Mitt for his comments. The writer seemed to imply that it was his position of privilege which caused this disconnect with Main Street America. Now, Mitt may certainly be privileged, and there obviously appears to be some disconnect between him and Main Street America. However, I don’t believe it is necessarily on this issue.
To that college student I would reply:
Yes, the cost of education is expensive. Yes, I realize the cost of tuition when I first went to school is a fraction of what it is today. Yes, I realize students need help to get the education they so desperately are seeking. But, no! I will not condemn Mr. Romney for his comments or his position.
It isn’t easy to make it through school. But, no one said it was supposed to be easy. Anything—ANYTHING--of value costs a great price. The work and toil we exert to pay that price is testament to its value. And, somehow the prize is much more cherished when we have to pay for it. So no! I will not pay for your education. It’s not that I don’t want to or even that I can’t. It’s that it is much more valuable and precious when you earn it.
When I began my college education, tuition for a state school was about $900 per semester. That’s a far cry from the $4,500 it takes today (look it up—the average cost per semester in the US is $4,500.) From just that perspective alone, one can certainly understand the angst of the writer of the blog and the lowly student confronting Mitt. But, remember, when I began my college education the average annual salary was about $6,000 per month. I know that to be a fact because that’s how much I brought home to my wife and infant.
To further set the perspective, our first home came with a purchase price of $13,500—a far cry from the cost of my current home. The poverty level today is measured around $22,000—more than three times the amount of my early annual salary. The middle income today, of which is the target of Ms. Sarwate’s article, ranges from $22,000 to $90,000—much more than my simple $6,000 in 1970.
Obviously a college education costs a lot more today than it did in 1970. However, income potential is also much greater today than in 1970. That is by no means to say we are currently not living through difficult economic times. We certainly are; I feel it just like the rest of America. However, we must also view these current times with some degree of perspective relative to times passed.
My point is—it was not easy getting an education when I did it, and I have earned my Master’s degree. But, it was by no means given to me. I worked through two-year colleges, transfers, scholarships, and 2nd jobs to get mine—no loans. Sometimes that’s what you have to do. That's exactly what my grandson is doing today.
I don’t mind my taxes going to help students today with some of the load. I’m just not willing to be happy with paying most of the burden; it's not my education. It IS my future, and I want my future to be guided by individuals who earned their place in life--who know what it means to make the sacrifices to gain the rewards. That’s all Mitt is saying. And, although he came from privilege, I didn’t. Nevertheless we can still arrive at the same conclusion.
(originally published as a comment to Ms. Sarwate's article)