Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Higher education, Kafka-style

There's plenty of chatter on the Net this week about President Obama's Afghanistan speech on Tuesday, so I'm going to talk about something else.

Funding for higher education in America.

Presently, we have a system only Franz Kafka could love. It's a system that literally undermines the American Dream, which is the simple idea that people who work hard and play by the rules ought to get ahead.

Case in point: On Tuesday, I heard a story on NPR about a student loan case that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Yes, that's right. Some poor schmuck has had to defend himself all the way to the highest court in the land over a student loan. Tell me how that makes any sense?

So basically, there was this guy Francisco Espinosa, who was a baggage handler for America West. Not the world's greatest job, right?

But he's a hard worker, so he figures, why not go to college? He got a student loan, got a degree in computer drafting and design, but then like happens to so many people, couldn't find a job in his field.

No fault of his own. Then America West got into financial troubles, and cut his pay. Also, not his fault. Espinosa is a responsible guy - he plays by the rules - he didn't drive a flashy car or live in a home worth more than he could afford. In fact, he didn't have any debt at all, except for that student loan, which he couldn't keep up on with his reduced wages.

Creditors started hassling him, calling him, his mother, demanding payment. He's still working as hard as he can, still playing by the rules to the best of his ability, but now he's got people hounding him over this loan.

So he filed for bankruptcy. The court put him on a new payment plan he could afford, and he paid off the loan. He even got a letter from the court verifying that he had satisfied his obligation to the lender.

He thinks he's good, right? All is said and done? Except no, after all this, the lender filed suit saying tht the court was out of bounds in the payment plan it had constructed, and that Espinosa still owed them four thousand dollars. Except that the lender had been notified of the court's proposed terms, twice, and had never raised an objection.

How incredibly bizarre, and completely mind boggling. Civilized nations offer support to their children in pursuing higher education. In some countries, like France, Argentina, and Denmark, any kid who wants to go gets a free ride. In Sweden and Germany, you don't even have to be a citizen!

But not here. Not in America, the richest nation in the world. Here, we make you accept indentured servitude to predatory lenders for the privilege of knowledge, we show no mercy if your life hits a hard patch, and come after you again anyway even after the court says you've fulfilled your obligations.

This disgusts me and the entire team at NPI. It really does.

We used to have robust financial assistance for aspiring scholars. We had Pell Grants, and student aid, and the like. Technically, we still have them, but thirty years of chipping away at them by right-wing administrations who would rather buy bombs than books has eroded this support to meaningless levels.

It's people like Francisco Espinosa who pay the price.


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