Universities Turn a Blind Eye on Student Debt

The decision about whether to attend a college or university is fully dependent on the individual. Nevertheless, many would agree that the main reason for acquiring higher-level education is to ensure financial stability. In today’s economy, it is a challenge to achieve this goal—one that is exacerbated by the increasingly common and prolonged problem of student debt, which our institutions of higher education are making little effort to combat.

In 2014, the higher education lobby was the third largest among all industries and spent over 81 million dollars (opensecrets.org). The University of Pittsburgh, specifically, has spent 500,000 dollars annually in lobbying efforts over the last decade. Yet less than a quarter of these endeavors deal specifically with education, and only a fraction of educational issues involve student aid (opensecrets.org). The amount of financial aid climbed to almost 140 billion dollars in 2014 (College Board), while the total federal student loan debt ballooned to 1.2 trillion dollars (Denhart).

Being that colleges and universities are virtually all over the country, schools possess a lot of influence within the region of which they reside. Thus, medium-large universities’ contingency influence—a body of voters in a specific area who vote on potential government representatives– towards their representatives is perhaps their biggest strength.  Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania represents University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and many other universities in the state (WSJ).  While he has clearly shown that education lobbying plays a key role in his representation of future education—seen later—he and other representatives have ignored the current issue of student debt. It is imperative that Pitt—where the average student borrows 10,000 dollars a year—and all universities nationwide use their lobbying power to protect the interests of students and their future financial solvency.

On top of its reluctance to change the system of federal student aid, the University of Pittsburgh has increased its tuition by 50 percent since 2005 and has the second-highest in-state tuition in the country. As much as this accredited institution may not like to call attention to it, Pitt is a nonprofit organization. Its primary purpose is to provide education to its students, a responsibility that comes second to its obligation to draw on this scholarly activity to benefit the surrounding community. Without its students, the University of Pittsburgh would not exist, and perhaps the city of Pittsburgh would be a much different place. The university needs to recognize this fact and put in the effort to make the future of their students brighter.

While few attempts have been made to overhaul the financial aid system, along with other universities, Pitt supports The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act. One of the cosponsors of the bill is again, Senator Pat Toomey (WSJ). This legislation would create a website, sorted by college and degree program, that provides information on graduation rates, average student debt, and employment and salary prospects (WSJ). While the bill wouldn’t benefit current students of higher education, it would help educate potential students and their families of all university statistics nationwide. Yet many universities oppose this bill. They claim that it would be an invasion of privacy to go through the records of past students, and that it would give a greater advantage to Ivy League schools than to smaller, private schools that cater to different demographics and types of students (Nelson).

The issue of student debt and higher education accountability has gained a huge amount of attention recently, and tension to revamp the system will only increase unless changes are made. Accredited institutions are now playing a role similar to that of corporations: generating the most amount of revenue in order to meet their own needs rather than those of the individuals they are intended to serve. Rather than identifying the need to optimize their students’ future, Pitt and other universities across the country focus on their need to build up their name and reputation for one thing—to make more money.

Sam Colelli



“Dear Alma Mater as a Lobbying Juggernaut.” WSJ. WSJ, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/dear-alma-mater-as-a-lobbying-juggernaut-1447367697&gt;.

Denhart, Chris. “How The $1.2 Trillion College Debt Crisis Is Crippling Students, Parents And The Economy.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 7 Aug. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/specialfeatures/2013/08/07/how-the-college-debt-is-crippling-students-parents-and-the-economy/&gt;.

Fernandes, Alan. “Ethical Considerations of the Public Sector Lobbyist.” Www.mcgeorge.edu. McGeorge Education. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Nelson, Lindsay. “Political Winds Shift on Federal Unit Records Database — but How Much?” Inside Higher Ed. 13 May 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/05/13/political-winds-shift-federal-unit-records-database-how-much&gt;.



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