Community College Students Need Not Apply: Our Reward for Bailing Out the Banks

American Dream deferred - that's what national lenders announced recently
when they told Americans they were significantly reducing their lending
to students who attend community college. Education is the great equalizer,
but there was no equality in their decision: they targeted community
colleges for cuts while extending their lending programs at distinguished
4-year schools.

to the New York Times (6/2/08), the following lenders have started
turning away from community college students: Citibank, JPMorgan Chase,
SunTrust, and PNC. In the case of Citibank, it has stopped offering
loans to all community college students in the state of California.
The banks' reasoning is that community college students are more likely
to default and are taking out smaller loans, while the students at elite
universities are more likely to take out bigger loans and to re-pay
them, since they are expected to earn more in the job market. This might
sound like solid reasoning were it not for the fact (duly pointed out
in the article) that the government ensures all student loans up to
95%. Thus there is essentially no risk involved for the lending companies.

been told that a college degree will set a person on the path for success.
Not everyone takes the same path, however. People enroll in community
college for many different reasons. Some didn't get the grades in
high school to qualify for a 4-year school, while others have to work
full-time and need the flexibility that community colleges offer. Most
simply cannot afford to enroll in a 4-year school. I am one of them.

high school, I enrolled in St. John's University because I got decent
grades in high school and I was expected to go to college. I had no
understanding of what I wanted to be in life and didn't grasp the
importance of the college experience and a higher education. I pretty
much picked a major out of a hat and then spent my first two semesters
skipping one too many a class. By the summer I decided not to enroll
for the fall, and took a full-time job instead. It wasn't anyone's
fault - in truth, I was not ready to attend college and made my decision

in my household education has always been stressed, and so I knew in
the front of my mind that I would return to college. After a few years
of working, I matured a great deal and had a better sense of where I
wanted to go in life. So I reapplied to St. Johns and was accepted once
again. I quickly realized, though, that my situation had changed dramatically.
The tuition was now double what it was when I had left, and I did not
qualify for financial aid since I was no longer a dependent but the
sole taxpayer. With basically no other choice, I turned to the best
alternative available: community college.

first I was discouraged. There is a stark difference between the administration
of St. John's and that of my new school, Bronx Community College.
Whereas it took only about 30 minutes to sign up for classes at St.
John's, it can take a whole day at BCC. And they may even ask you
to come back due to of some mysterious hold on your record that can
be taken care of only by an obscure faculty member who is often never
on campus when you are. In my admission process, I asked three different
faculty members the same question and I got back three completely different
answers. There was also this stigma I was carrying around that somehow
an education at a community college is inferior - some people refer
to it as the 13th grade.

attending for more than three semesters now, I would say the administration
process has improved some, but it is still in disarray. Moreover, basic
resources are badly lacking, such as water fountains. Oddly, not a single
functioning water fountain can be found on the entire campus, though
there are soda machines in every building. The heating and AC systems
are hit and miss and the menu at the food hall is less than appealing.
As for the education, I couldn't have been more wrong. It has been
rigorous and very well rounded-great preparation for any baccalaureate

was embarrassed to qualify only as a freshman even though I was legally
old enough to drink, that is, until I got to class and met my classmates.
This is the beauty of community college, the student body. Many of us
have returned to community college as a second chance to help us achieve
our goals. I met single mothers, fathers, grandmothers, first generation
immigrants, people of all nationalities, the majority clearly focused
and very eager to learn - all of us striving equally to get a piece
of the American Dream, using community college as the springboard. When
people would raise their hands to answer questions, you would hear West
Indian accents, Eastern European accents, East Indian accents, Latino
accents, and some I just couldn't place. Since I was still working,
the flexible schedule was a necessity for me. Like me, many of my classmates
came to class right after their full-time job. I don't think most
of us could afford to leave our jobs and without community college we
couldn't continue our higher education.

student body at community colleges should be an inspiration to America.
When I see a single mother who takes care of her children, works a full-time
job, and finds time on the nights and weekends to attend school, I am
inspired to continue despite at times feeling overwhelmed. Yet when
it was discovered that lenders were turning their backs on these hardworking
students, America didn't blink an eye. Since the credit companies
are now turning their backs on us, does that not mean we should have
no problem turning our backs on the banks when they want the government
to bail them out?

we should do as economist Dean Baker has recently suggested and put
into law as one of the terms of the bailout that Congress impose a strict
cap on management compensation of $2m a year, including salary, bonuses,
stock options, and personal use of company jets. As Baker says, "This
can be a good first step toward reining in the outrageous salaries at
financial institutions that have come at the expense of ordinary workers.
We can apply the same salary caps for managers at other financial institutions
that feed at the government trough." He notes that under the current
bailout, which naturally was written by the banks themselves, "the
government is explicitly subsidizing the pay of incompetent bank managers.
It is the effective use of lobbyists that ensures the pay of the executives
of Fannie and Freddie, not their skill and hard work."

terms of college loans, why not downsize lending at the distinguished
4-year schools? After all, students at the wealthy 4-year schools have
far more net worth than those attending community college. Also, since
so many students at community college work full-time, I bet we're
actually paying a great deal more in taxes than students at 4-year universities.

it was discovered that a local congressman, my local congressman, was
hoarding rent-stabilized apartments it became a weeklong media circus,
with news conferences and special features on the 6 and 11 o'clock
news. It seems like you can't turn on the news without a politician
convening a press conference to defend their indefensibly corrupt behavior.
Yet when it comes to the corruptions of the big banks the government
rushes in to save their skin, that is, their hugely bloated salaries,
and the media looks the other way.

it is, in many inner cities and low-income communities too many students
fall through the cracks before they even get a chance to attend community
college. As a society, we can't allow even more holes for them to
fall through. What happens to people when more unnecessary obstacles
are placed in front of them on their path to success?

big banks want us to help them out in tough times, after having made
extremely irrational lending decisions, but when we need help to purse
a very sound and rational course, the attainment of a college degree,
America's politicians sit in the back of the classroom and nod off
to sleep, squandering yet another chance for us to improve ourselves.

makes one wonder if that is not the whole plan.

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