I went through school, I worked my way through, it took me seven years, I never borrowed a dime of money. He borrowed a little bit because we both were totally on our own when we went to college, totally. […] I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that. I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” You don’t have it dumped in your lap.
To hear the quote in some context, listen to it here:
This is yet another example of the submerged state problem— the inability or refusal of many people to perceive the the way government benefits them personally, preferring instead to see a narrative of self-reliance– creating a dangerous historical blindness.
Foxx graduated from UNC in 1968— which means she went to college from 1961 to 1968: smack-dab in the middle of the period of unprecedented growth in higher education that lasted from 1945 to 1975. This time period was also (and not coincidentally) a time of a great influx of federal dollars into higher education– universities were awash in federal monies, from GI Bill tuitions to Cold War and Space Race research funding to direct subsidies on higher education to attempt to keep pace with the postwar baby boom.
I don’t mean to downplay Rep. Foxx’s commitment to her education or the sacrifices she made to get there. It can extremely difficult for a student from a poor family to succeed in higher education, especially when they are financially on their own. However, no matter her struggle, it doesn’t lessen the fact that it was simply much easier to do what she did in the 1960s than it is today. The numbers make this abundantly clear:
To take another flagship state school from the southern mid-Atlantic region, tuition and fees for a full-time student at the University of Virginia in 1970 (two years after Dr. Foxx’s completion of her Baccalaureate) was $484 for in-state students. If we go by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, that is approximately $2,862 in today’s dollars. However, when we look at the current tuition and fee rate for a full-time, in-state, returning student (in other words, the student who is getting the best deal in terms of price per credit hour) is $11,584 a year. That’s about four times the inflation-adjusted 1970 price.
Even if we overlook the fact that she had a partner to help her financially and share costs and that it took her almost twice the “normal” amount of time to matriculate, Dr. Foxx is positing that avoidance of debt is possible for students based on her own experience at a time when school cost approximately a quarter what it does now. This is simply not a tenable model of behavior for students in the current academic economy.
Representative Foxx’s comments would merely be frustrating and irksome if she was some random congressperson. But this is a former higher education administrator, and the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, who is serving as such at a time when unemployment among young adults is at a 60-year high, and when many are anticipating student loans to be the next economic “bubble” to burst.
It is essential that our citizens– especially those who choose to serve the nation by leading it– are able to perceive the topography of history, to see how historical forces shape the facts of our world in ways that cannot be blotted out by ideology or partisan concern. Dr. Foxx is either unable or unwilling to do so when it comes to the facts of university finance, and this is especially problematic given her position. And her willingness to express a lack of sympathy for individuals who are truly caught between the massive bureaucracies of the loan providers and the skyrocketing price of tuition, rather than targeting either of these systemic problems, is especially troubling.