President Obama is “completely wrongheaded” when it comes to his higher education goals for America, Christopher M. Gacek, senior fellow for regulatory affairs at the Family Research Council, said Thursday at an FRC event on student loan debt.
The “Save Me from College Debt” talk was held in order to discuss ways for students and their families to avoid the increasingly common problem of massive student debt. The discussion, which was moderated by Gacek, featured talks from Andrew Gillen, senior researcher at American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and Sophia Ephraim, founder of Haven Financial Counseling Services.
Gacek believes Obama’s push to have a national graduation rate of 60 percent is focusing on the wrong issue. “[They say] everybody should go to college, maximize the number of people in college,” Gacek said. Referencing the student debt crisis, he added, “It’s just sort of — they’re oblivious to what’s happening.”
The problems are not limited to the Democrats, according to Gacek. Neither political party is doing enough to help resolve the issue of student debt, he said, calling current education policy discussions “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
“You have this sort of romanticization of what [education] is,” Gacek said. He believes focus needs to be given to online classes and universities, which can help combat the increasingly high cost of education.
During his talk, Gillen said the increased cost of education is not due to changes in institutions’ costs and revenues, but instead due to the correlation between a college or university’s spending and its reputation. “The way you increase your reputation is by spending more money,” he said. “You can bring in star faculty; you can recruit better students; you can build better football stadiums.” He said students need to be provided with more concrete information about schools’ performance in order to understand the real value of their education based on their financial investment.
“We basically tell young students, ‘Go to college,’ and we don’t put any qualifications on it,” Gillen said. “We don’t say, ‘Go to a college you can afford’.” He noted this could make getting a college degree “potentially dangerous” to students who do not understand the realities of college debt.
Ephraim stressed planning ahead as the key to achieving the goal of getting a degree. She said parents need to save for college as soon as their children are born, instead of waiting until their kids are in junior high or high school. Families should also sit down together and figure out a college plan, such as a child’s area of study and the best ways to afford it, Ephraim said. “The family has to take back the whole process of running off to college,” she said. Much of the good in society comes through the family unit, Gacek also said, but debt can hinder that progress, and there is little people can do to bail themselves out of a debt crisis.
“Individuals can’t act as their own Ben Bernanke,” Gacek joked.
The FRC has launched a website, savemefromcollegedebt.com, to help raise awareness for the issue of student debt.