The following is comprised of quotes from previously published reflections regarding student debt.
For 15 years, I have written about the consequences students face when over borrowing. There are no silver bullets. What will reduce indebtedness? Personal and corporate responsibility—exercised repeatedly by the student and institution. Universities and their leaders must be honest with students who walk through their doors. Repeatedly, I tell students that if they need to borrow any money during the first two years of college, go to a community college. That is a bold statement, but one I stand by. To read reflections referenced below, visit walterwendler.com and search by title.
“The court of public opinion and the scholarship of the day-to-day have rendered their decision in action – the middle class is not just a good idea, but the essence of a free society.” “The Creation of a Middle Class” August 15, 2008
“Coupling dual enrollment with highly articulated transfer arrangements between the community college and the local university has the impact of reducing the cost of a bachelor’s degree by 50%.” “Reducing Costs for College Students” January 16, 2009
Universities, one hopes inadvertently, are training generations to avoid responsibility for their actions. This is shameful. Such training breeds an expectation of entitlement that undermines initiative, industry, courage, self-reliance, community and discourages students from exercising one of the greatest benefits of higher education: the ability to take enlightened action. “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Our Universities: I’m Ashamed” November 2, 2011
“Unfortunately too many institutions say “yes” to students not ready to study: They crave the loan dollars students are willing to sign up for. There is institutional responsibility in this debt burden.” “Debt and Learning: Cause and Effect” May 27, 2013
“A “cash cow” degree that provides easy access and low utility through interest-rate-capped federally subsidized loans undermines the integrity of higher education from the inside out.” “Fifteen Dollars a Week” August 6, 2013
“Our universities must be imaginative in finding ways to curtail and align costs for higher education.” “Stakeholders on Student Debt Plan Need to Put Skin in the Game” June 17, 2014
“Cardiovascular disease, cancer, type II diabetes, strokes, high blood pressure, dementia, Parkinson’s, COPD, arthritis, cataracts and osteoporosis are unfortunate and common, in varying degrees, as people grow old. Now, adding insult to injury, a growing number of aging Americans have college debt that they will not pay off before they die.” “Social Security and College Debt” July 16, 2019
“I tell every potential student, “Do not attend West Texas A&M University if you have to borrow during your first two years. Go to community college and talk to us every step along the way.” “The Real Problem with Student Debt” April 9, 2019
“Borrowing with an insufficient return on investment is foolhardy. Borrowing for non-essentials is a big mistake. Borrowing for expensive choices when similar lower-cost alternatives are available is a lapse in judgment. Borrowing with the assumption of someone else paying the bill is immoral. Borrowing to have a good time without regard to long-term consequences is two steps north of stupid.” “Student Debt” August 15, 2021
“Being honest and straightforward, I tell the students that if I could guarantee them the college education we offer at West Texas A&M University would make them happy, we would be the largest university on the planet. I have to tell them that’s a guarantee not offered.” “Happy Now” October 3, 2021
“This continuous cycle of over-borrowing is harmful to both the borrowers and our national economy.” “The Debt Debacle” December 13, 2021
“Student indebtedness may be the tip of the iceberg that sinks a free society.” “Student Debt: A National, State, Institutional or Personal Problem” January 2, 2022
“When combined, the predatory lenders, disingenuous universities and promising politicians all bear their part in the overall student indebtedness crisis.” “College Debt and Single Parents” January 9, 2022
“No community bears the burden of educational debt. Individual citizens do, and hence should choose their path forward carefully and wisely.” “Educational Debt in Various Communities” January 16, 2022
“The burden of debt and failure is a powerful one-two punch that should be overcome with transparency and a course of action to help underdogs come from behind.” “Coming from Behind” January 30, 2022
At West Texas A&M University, we have worked diligently to make students aware of the costs and benefits of higher education. Under the leadership of Chancellor John Sharp and The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, tuition for Fall 2022 did not increase. In 2021, WT’s total charges for tuition and fees was $4,610—where we ranked in the lowest quartile amongst public universities. The statewide average was $5,205. We are working to reduce indebtedness locally and control costs to benefit students. The E Book, “Student Debt” is available on the WT website.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.
At least you are honest in your role as President of West Texas A&M. Students need to be warned about the debt burden. But the situation has grown out of control. Whereas higher education was once recognized as a national good by all politicians and supported financially by most state legislatures enabling most to either work their way through college or take on loans that were not financially crippling, the whole idea is at crisis point. I hear objections by former students who were able to pay off their debts in better times oblivious of the fact that costs have rises to an alarming degree.
Personally, I favor a European model of higher education that does not penalize students financially from attending with perhaps a year of community service at the end of courses. I assume most readers would turn down the idea of grants abolished by Blair’s New Labour that has caused a similar problem in the UK but 50 years ago standards were very rigorous and would exclude those who could not benefit on academic grounds alone.
These diverse quotes naturally should stimulate conversation but unless the situation changes for the better with radical reforms especially those putting vocational education on the same level as the academic, I fear we may have further generations of so-called “deplorables” who will join the ranks of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers who will “stand by” awaiting the call to avenge themselves on their more privileged counterparts. Something urgently needs to be done for the good of this society that is both fair and just.