North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx feels that it is unnecessary for those going to college to come out with a degree and a debt of $80,000 or more. She pointed out that she worked her way through college and feels that today’s students should do that same. Foxx said that she never “borrowed a dime” to get through college. She also said that her husband borrowed a “small amount” because it made sense. That small amount was $1,500. It may not sound like a lot but back in the 1960s $1,500 was real money. It bought a new car or a down payment on a house.
Foxx attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She graduated in 1968 after seven years at school. Back in 1968 tuition, room and board cost about $1,100 a year for a college like hers. Of course, there are always a few extra costs on top of that. Assuming that Foxx’s husband went to the same school, then they borrowed enough money for a year and a half of college.
Today, the average cost of a higher education runs $20,000 or better a year. A public school like the one Foxx went to runs about $15,000. Private institutions exceed $40,000. Take a loan like Foxx’s husband took out in 1968 and a year and a half of school costs would correlate to $25,000 to $60,000. That’s not the same as a $100,000 or $200,000 loan for college, but Foxx is not accurately portraying herself as a frugal student paying her way through school when her husband takes out a loan of that size. Double their costs and their outlays would be $50,000 to $120,000. That is right at the level she criticizes when dismissing an $80,000 loan as irresponsible.
A CNN report for 2010 found average debt loads of $25,000 for students. In some states, like Utah, it was as low as $15,000. Other states, like in New England, with prestigious private colleges had debts at $40-50,000.
When compared with Foxx and her husband, today’s students are just as frugal. Running up a $100,000 or more debt is not that difficult for someone who comes from a poor background, goes to a top notch private college and seeks a degree like one in law, medicine or science that requires more than a bachelor’s degree, which is what Foxx received.
Foxx’s argument is no better than the “When I was in school, I walked seven miles in the snow to catch the school bus” type of story. It’s an exaggerated view of her own abilities and struggles. Foxx doesn’t have empathy for students today because she fails to understand that a college education doesn’t cost what it did in 1961 when she started college. Even worse, she sees her loan as an okay thing to do, but sees no excuse for students doing the same thing today. Sadly, she isn’t the only one lacking the ability to accept that 2012 is a different world from 1968.