Education costs rising out of range

Updated: Friday, May 30, 2014
Education costs rising out of range story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - It's the time of year for pomp and circumstance and graduation parties, as young American men and women make the transition from high school to the rest of their lives.

Never before has the cultivation of young minds been more important for the future of our country.

Tonight, in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says if we expect to compete well in the growing arena of global competition, we should be making it easier for young people to continue their education, not harder.

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We've all heard the numbers. And they're sobering.

In math, our kids rank 36th. In science, 28th. And in reading, 24th.

And its not so much that our scores are getting worse--theirs are getting better.

We're stagnating.

A generation ago the United States had the highest number of college graduates in the world.

Today we rank ninth--behind such countries as South Korea, Japan, China, Canada, and India.

This, at a time when how we compete in a global economy is going to be dictating our future. Whether we wish to burden our young people with this or not, the fact is, they are our warriors in an increasingly competitive battle for survival.  It's a war that will never end.

No longer is it whether the son or daughter is being groomed to take over the family grocery store. The day of the mom and pop enterprise is largely over. The game is now being played on a world stage.

And how are we helping?

We urge them to borrow large sums of money from the government--with interest rates of roughly 4 to 7 percent--to be paid back after they graduate from college.

With a smile, a signature, a handshake and a few words of encouragement, we award them a diploma and place them in a ten to twenty year financial bind.

Instead of saddling these young men and women with interest-laden debt, why not make it as appealing as buying a new car: "no money down and zero-percent financing." If auto companies can afford to do it to increase sales, we ought to be able to do it to increase our competitive edge.

Not to suggest free education. Just to suggest we drop the burden of interest. Why in the world should a student graduate with a debt of $50,000 and have to pay $80 or $90-thousand over the next 20 years to get out from under it? How about "pay back what you borrow."

To be sure, the government likes things the way they are. Our federal government takes in as much as $65 billion a year on interest from loans made to college students. Isn't that special?

Here's a snapshot of where we stand: more and more young adults want to further their educations. Applications are up at colleges and universities all across the state.

The trouble is, tuition rates over the past thirty years have risen three times faster than median family incomes.

A new ACT study says the average family income for high school seniors has actually declined 12 percent over the past eight years.

People have less and less to pay more and more.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren says graduates are so strangled by student debt that for many it's nearly impossible to buy houses or cars or take part in our economy in any substantial way.

And the exact opposite is what we need.

Just as in the world of healthcare, we have to find a way to get control of the cost. There is no sane reason that healthcare and education should continuously outpace inflation.

And there is no sane reason we shouldn't be affordably equipping our young people with everything they need to compete head-to-head in an increasingly competitive world.

It's a cost we'd benefit from greatly.

And our future depends on it.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on August 29, 2014 17:14 GMT

CONSUMER SPENDING

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumer spending fell in July, with a drop in auto purchases accounting for most of the weakness. Income growth also slowed in July.

The Commerce Department says consumer spending edged down 0.1 percent last month after a 0.4 percent increase in June. It was the first decline in spending since January. Income growth slowed to a 0.2 percent rise in July, the weakest showing in seven months.

The fall in spending came primarily from a decline in auto sales, which took a breather in July after posting big gains in recent months, although spending in other areas was also weak.

Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, so it needs to recover for the economy to keep its momentum in the second half of the year.

CONSUMER SENTIMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumer sentiment ticked up in August, driven by greater optimism about jobs, rising incomes, and increasing wealth. The increase largely occurred among higher-income groups.

The University of Michigan says its index of consumer sentiment rose to 82.5 from 81.8 in July. Still, it has barely risen in the past year.

Consumers have sent mixed signals in recent months. The Michigan index has fluctuated between 80 and 82.5 since December. A measure of consumer confidence by the Conference Board rose this month to nearly a seven-year high. And yet Americans cut back their spending in July.

Nearly 60 percent of households in the top third of income earners say they are financially better off this month, the Michigan survey found, compared with only 36 percent in the bottom two-thirds.

US-FIAT-CHRYSLER

DETROIT (AP) -- U.S. investors should soon be able to buy stock in Chrysler for the first time in seven years.

Italy's Fiat and Chrysler are merging to form Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Fiat says Friday that an ongoing tally of investors suggests there is not enough opposition to derail the deal.

Earlier this month, Fiat shareholders approved combining the companies. But Italian law gives dissenters the right to cash out. Fiat has said that if investors offered more than 500 million euros ($650 million) in shares, the merger would be off.

Fiat SpA will announce the final tally by Sept. 4. So far the maximum number of shares to be cashed is below the cap.

Shares of Chrysler haven't been publicly traded since 2007 when it was still combined with German automaker Daimler.

REYNOLDS AMERICAN-LORILLARD

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Federal regulators are putting Reynolds American Inc.'s planned $25 billion takeover of rival cigarette maker Lorillard Inc. under the microscope.

The nation's second-biggest tobacco company said Friday that the Federal Trade Commission has asked for additional information as part of an antitrust review of the deal.

In July, Reynolds announced the deal to combine two of the nation's oldest and biggest tobacco companies, creating a formidable No. 2 to rival Altria Group Inc., owner of Philip Morris USA.

Reynolds markets Camel, Pall Mall and Natural American Spirit cigarettes. Lorillard sells Newport, Maverick and Kent cigarettes.

The companies plan to sell the Kool, Salem, Winston, Maverick and blu eCig brands to Imperial Tobacco Group for $7.1 billion to ease regulatory concerns about competition.

HEALTH OVERHAUL-TAX FORMS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal agency that brought you the glitchy HealthCare.gov website has a massive new project.

If the Health and Human Services department has trouble this time, that could delay tax refunds for many people.

Complicated connections between the new health care law and income taxes will start to surface in 2015.

HHS has to send millions of people who got health insurance tax credits this year a new tax form that's like a W-2 for health care. It's called a 1095-A.

If they're delayed beyond Jan. 31, people who got coverage through the new insurance exchanges may have to wait to file their taxes -- and collect their refunds.

Some tax preparation companies are worried.

The Obama administration says it's on task, but won't provide much detail.

EUROPE-ECONOMY

BRUSSELS (AP) -- Inflation has fallen to an annual 0.3 percent in August for the 18 countries that use the euro, underlining the shakiness of the continent's economic recovery.

Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, says the figure is down from 0.4 percent in July, as expected by market analysts.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, sent a modestly brighter signal as it rose to 0.9 percent from 0.8 percent.

The eurozone economy showed no growth in the second quarter as fears about the Ukrainian crisis weighed on consumers and investment decisions.

The European Central Bank has warned that inflation expectations are worsening and says it will add more stimulus if needed. Many analysts are predicting the bank will launch large-scale purchases of financial assets to pump more money into the economy.

BRAZIL-ECONOMY

SAO PAULO (AP) -- Brazil's government says the country's gross domestic product contracted 0.6 percent in the second quarter compared with the previous three months, sending the country's economy into a recession.

The government's IBGE statistics bureau said Friday it was the second consecutive quarterly contraction of the economy.

In the first quarter of the year, GDP was reported as having grown 0.2 percent. But that figure was revised downward to minus 0.2 percent.

The IBGE says the country's GDP stands at 1.27 trillion reals ($567 billion).

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