This fall, I’ll be teaching some of the most financially distressed students in America.
At my employer, Ohio State University, student loan debt reportedly rose 23 percent faster than the national average between 2010 and 2012. This is true at state schools across the country. Student debt has risen nationally, and the sharpest uptick occurred at public universities with the highest-paid presidents. From 2006 to 2012, for example, the “average student debt of graduates in the top 25 public universities with the highest executive pay increased 5 percentage points more or 13 percent faster than the national average,” according to one recent report.
Racial minorities face an even more precarious situation. Previous findings show the students I typically teach — African-Americans — are more likely to borrow, and borrow more than the average college student.
At first glance, the student loan debt crisis appears a problem hatched in state houses and government. In the 1970s, states paid 65 percent of the costs of college. By 2013, states covered a mere 30 percent of college costs. Like students who had to pay more, the federal government seemingly upped its commitment, covering just 10 percent in the 1970s and 16 percent today.
But unmooring these statistics from their political context obscures how national forces shaped the seismic shifts in state higher education and, ultimately, why states give less and students pay more. To fix inequality at places like Ohio State, we should look to federal policy first, and problems with state funding second.