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No free tuition? There are other options


August 09, 2016

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    Ah, August — the impending rush of the school year, the return of the students, the resurgence in the entertainment community. It's always a bittersweet time for me here at Connect: I'll miss the peace and quiet of Statesboro with half its population missing, but I'm glad the bands and other performances will be starting up again to give us some fun stuff to write about.
    As we always do this time of year, our issue of Connect includes a few helpful back-to-school features: a guide to useful websites to help keep you plugged in locally, a breakdown of your local coffee shops, a season preview of each of the local theatrical venues, and a binge guide for that handy HBO GO feature that comes with on-campus student housing at GSU. As far as actual stories go, we've also included a piece by our sydicate, Deseret News, about how the escalating price of tuition is driving some students to seek assistance just in getting food to eat.
    This time of year always gets me thinking about college tuition and the ongoing debt situation that students and graduates face. There are so many statistics out there, but the one in front of me right now is from a TIME article from January: "This year, more than two-thirds of college graduates graduated with debt, and their average debt at graduation was about $35,000, tripling in two decades."
    The debt crisis entered the political discussion this election season when Bernie Sanders brought it to the forefront of his campaign, and since then I've heard plenty of scoffing against the idea of free tuition for everyone. My personal stance is that I don't see why we shouldn't have what other countries have had for years, but I get completely dumbfounded when people flat-out refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem when it comes to the cost of tuition and won't think of solutions to lower it.    
    Because I can think of plenty of ways to scale back costs. How about unnecessary amenities? There are schools where dorms have pools, hot tubs, video game arcades, aerobics rooms, personal Rokus and TempurPedic mattresses. Some of these amenities are likely also provided through the school's recreation center; the rest are completely superfluous and come out of students' housing fees. While this sounds like the lap of luxury, you reconsider when you look at the price tag, especially at some schools where on-campus housing is limited or, worse, mandatory, and you have no cheaper options to pursue.
    Speaking of mandatory on-campus housing contracts, have we talked about mandatory meal plans? My alma mater required students to spend their first two years on campus, locking them into both housing contracts and meal plans. The meal plan came out to eight dollars per meal. For perspective: I recently spent eight dollars on a rotisserie chicken and vegetables. I got six full meals out of that. I understand why the meal plans cost what they do, but if a student has to take out a loan to cover something they are being forced to use, they are practically throwing away money they will be forced to repay with interest.
    Shall we touch on the corrupt textbook industry? Or better yet, the salaries of top-ranking college officials? The president of Georgia Tech makes over $1 million per year; former GSU president Dr. Brooks Keel's annual salary at Augusta University is $779,500. That's almost twice as much as the president of the United States, and that's not a rarity among university presidents. Regardless of where that money is coming from, it baffles me that any educator would not re-allocate those funds, taking a more modest salary to give their students a break. Don't get me started on coaches' salaries or the burden of college sports.
    So sure — if people are going to throw a fit about how we can't have free college for everyone, fine. But there are plenty of things universities could scale back on or cut outright to knock this staggering debt down a peg for future generations of students.    
    
    Brittani Howell is the editor of Connect Statesboro. If you'd like to reach out, shoot a message to editor@connectstatesboro.com!

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