Some Kean students say no to free tuition

Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, proposed free tuition at public universities, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, supports reducing interest rates on student loans.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, left, proposed free tuition at public universities, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, supports reducing interest rates on student loans.

By Redina Demushi | Published March 3, 2016

Student loan debt has become a central issue in debates for the Democratic and Republican nominations for president, but not all Kean students are for free college.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, has stressed the idea of making public higher education free for everyone in the United States, as it presently is in much of Europe.

Meanwhile, Clinton is against free tuition, and proposes more moderate measures like increasing aid and reducing the interest rate on student loans.

Students interviewed on campus said that they are against making tuition free at public colleges, dismissing the idea as radical or too costly to be achievable, according to an informal survey.

Although most students at Kean need loans and grants to pay for tuition, many do not agree with Sanders’ proposal or find it impractical to eliminate tuition rates entirely. Instead, they said they would rather see the high interest rates that accompany the student loans be lowered. They also favored lowering tuition rates at public colleges.

“A lot of the radical socialist ideas that Bernie Sanders presents just have a lack of practicality in their accomplishment, not arguing the morality or the idea of it, because I do think it would be great, it’s just not practical, and so it would be foolish for American taxpayers to undertake such a fiscally irresponsible move,” said Caleb Dagnall, 20, and a sophomore history education major who received a full scholarship to Kean.

Students shared their thoughts on the topic and provided possible solutions to the large amount of debt many Kean students are committing to.

“I don’t think free education is the right way to go, but I do believe that lower tuition and interest rates would help,” said Michael Lao, a senior biology major who has taken out loans for two of his four years at college.

Meanwhile, Student Organization President Nigel Donald emphasized that Kean has tried to remain competitive among other state universities, despite a recent 3 percent increase in tuition and fees.

“I think Kean University has tried its best to offer students an affordable tuition rate for such opportunities but for other state universities I wish I could say the same,” said Donald who is set to graduate with an economics degree in May. “The tuition hikes that have occurred in both New Jersey and across America are punitive to college students and the interest rates are a sentencing to long-term debt.”

Donald has been working while attending Kean for the past four years, in order to pay for school partially, while taking the rest out in loans.

Tuition rates at Kean have risen throughout the past decade. In-state tuition has gone up by $1,773 since the fall of 2006. It has progressively increased every year, by three to eight percent, according to the university’s Office of Institutional Research.

There are also Kean students who are in favor of Sanders’ plan to abolish tuition rates completely at public universities. Some students said that a system should also be implemented that would make getting accepted more difficult, so that such an opportunity is not taken lightly.

Kelly Barata, a senior English writing major, who has taken out loans all four years, responded stating that she was “extremely for” free higher education.

“But, there should be more to it than just getting to go to school for free,” Barata said. “There are many that take advantage of things like that, FAFSA being a prime example. There are individuals that get a whole bunch of money to go to school, but spend it elsewhere or fail their classes.”

According to the university’s Office of Institutional Research, the number of loans taken out by Kean students has slightly decreased in the past five years. Over the course of that time period, federal and state grants have increased, and institutional grants and scholarships have declined.

“Taking out loans can be considered a big financial decision for students to make, especially in today’s economy,” Lao said, referring to paying for school. “With such high rates, some students may feel that they cannot take out loans, which forces them to work multiple jobs in order to pay for school. This may affect school performance and daily life.”

All of the interviewed students — who were either for or against free tuition — said that they feel something needs to be done about student debt, and offered up some interesting solutions.

Dagnall, the history major who didn’t think Sanders’ idea of free college was practical, stated that people should focus on the value of vocational and technical training.

The Student Organization president also proposed solving the problem by offering interest-free loans, providing cheaper ways to access books and materials, removing fees that do not pertain to students, and confronting areas that are not essential to the university and harming students in the process.

“In nearly every college budget statement across America you will find large amounts of debt for construction,” Donald said. “Building for Kean, I believe, is somewhere around $20 million a year. I’m not saying reinventing a college campus isn’t worthwhile but what I am saying is this construction all needs to be paid for by someone, and although it might not always come out of the student pocket, more than sometimes, it is.”

Kean students insist that the amount of student debt people carry is burdensome and unfair. To some, finding a job straight out of college is difficult enough without such a large amount of money hanging over their heads.

“If we are to make something of ourselves and contribute to the world, why should we be punished for it with student debt?” Angela Oviedo, a senior biology major, with student loans shared. “It just doesn’t make any sense for our country to rob its future population before we even get a chance to start.”

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