Students should increase political awareness to vote for increased higher education spending

With a few exceptions, people don’t want to talk politics. For most of us the ideological, vitriolic tone of political discussion means we’d just rather be talking about something else.

Whether its the Grammys, Mumford & Sons, or how much books cost this semester, it always seems like politics is the best way to end a conversation– and that’s a shame.

As students, the government has so much to offer us, if only we would mobilize and organize.

The New York Times released a chart of the President’s budget proposal for the 2011 fiscal year.

As promised, he is pushing for major increases in education spending– but that push isn’t terribly meaningful when education only represents about three percent of the national budget, including his increases.

Social security represents around 20 percent of federal spending, education only 3 percent, and when we pay 125 billion dollars more a year on national debt interest than education; our priorities are clearly jumbled.

Not that I oppose non-education spending, but from an economic standpoint, social security spending has a limited ability to benefit the economy – one dollar of social security money yields one dollar in economic benefits.

However, every  one dollar of spending on education can yield in over $10 in economic benefit.

But all these numbers, claims and anger fall back into the usual political bull you can get by turning to CNN or Fox News – what does it mean to you?

Consider Britain. At first, it might seem abstract to talk about Britain, but for those of you worried about how to pay for tuition, room and board, books, or that next tattoo, Britain has a lot to teach us.

First of all, Britain sets a maximum that universities and colleges can charge students for tuition – for this year that cap was about $5200.

Sounds wonderful, considering Pacific Lutheran University’s (PLU) tuition is almost three times that – per semester.

If that seems a little steep, however, Britain’s government offers bursaries, basically grants that every student qualifies for.

Direct.gov.uk states that if your college or university charges the maximum tuition, you qualify for a minimum of a $520 grant.

Speaking of grants, Britain also offers grants based on income– not only for tuition, but also for cost of living expenses (America’s median income is about $44,000, in Britain, you are guaranteed the max grant if you make $40,000 or less).

Now, you might say that the U.S. and PLU are not Britain, but the tools to push a political agenda which students in Britain employ are absolutely available to us.

First off, young people vote more there. In the last election, 10 percent more of the 18-24 demographic voted in Britain than did in the U.S.

Second, those student voters are organized – Britain, along with other countries, has the NUS, or National Union for Students, which among other things, lobbies the government on behalf of students and advises students and student groups on how to do the same.

In the 2010 elections, 25 million Americans aged over 64 voted, while only 12 million Americans aged 18-24 voted.

It’s no wonder the federal government spends $1.3 trillion on medicare/medicaid/social security, while spending only $122 billion on education – they have to answer to the active and organized (think AARP) voters who benefit from that spending; how often do they answer to the students?

Democrats and Republicans alike ask you to “Get out and vote!” I, however, seek to hold you to a higher standard.

Vote, yes, but know what you are voting for, know your power as a voter. If you think college is WAY too expensive, tell politicians! And tell them with one voice.

 

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