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Opinion | Income inequality: Disadvantaged students try extreme ways to afford a college education

By Steven Beynon
On May 5, 2014

Ryan Scanlon didn't initially join the Army for patriotic reasons. He believed in the war in Afghanistan and liked the idea of being a soldier, but his motivation for enlisting at the age of 17 was an education.

The Army National Guard covers a soldier's full tuition and the federal government pays war veterans for living expenses while attending school.

Scanlon was raised in a typical Midwest family. They could afford to feed themselves and buy nice things on Christmas, but paying for a four-year degree was outside their reach. He knew he would have to get creative in order to pay for Miami University's tuition.

"My family couldn't afford to help me and [working at] Taco Bell probably wasn't going to be good enough," he said.

Like many students, Scanlon wanted to avoid getting wrapped up in debt. And with loans out of the question, Scanlon was left with only one option: he joined the Army National Guard.

"It's something I'm really glad I did," Scanlon said. "I even liked it so much I trained to go into Special Forces."

Through his quest to pay for school, Scanlon risked his life on multiple occasions. On Scanlon's deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, Taliban fighters attacked his unit. Both of his legs were amputated. He is currently in physical therapy.

It's easy to dismiss these kinds of stories as an obligatory rich vs. poor narrative.

But that's what this is. And it's important. The privileged rich attend school uninterrupted while young people from less fortunate backgrounds have to seek unconventional ways to pay for school.

Average student debt in the U.S. was nearly $30,000 for graduates last year, up from the $20,200 average student debt in 2008, according to a study done by the U.S. Department of Education.

Outstanding national student debt is $1.2 trillion from federal and private loans, and more than 7 million borrowers are in default and unable to pay for their loans, according to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Student debt is now the second highest consumer debt in the country, just behind mortgage debt.

The rich keep getting ahead and are able to easily access education, while more obstacles are being put in poor people's way.

This is a large piece of the income inequality puzzle, according to Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley Professor of Public Policy, who also served as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton.

Reich cites the falling support for higher education by the federal government and tuition hikes as reasons for the shrinking middle class.

We're getting more news about college students across the country going into prostitution, stripping and pornography.

A 22-year-old female student spoke with "The Huffington Post" and reported to be making $3,000 a month from providing "company" to wealthy men in order to pay her crippling student debt.

She is using a site called SeekingArrangment.com, which is for wealthy men looking for the company of young college women. About 350,000 college students have profiles on the site, according to CNN.

Both parties make profiles similar to most dating sites. What makes this site different is that the "Gentlemen" write what their lifestyle budget is and the "Sugar Babies" report what lifestyle budget they're expecting.

Essentially, a legal way of negotiating paid sex.

Last year, 30 percent of Miami University first-years reported their family income to be greater than $200,000 per year.

Fifty-four percent of Miami students are using loans. The average student is $27,200 in debt, according to Brent Shock, director of financial assistance at Miami.

In the class 2012, 69 percent of students across Ohio graduated with debt.

While Miami students have less debt than average, overall tuition is higher that other Ohio schools. Miami University has a reputation of most students having a privileged background.

The public needs to demand fiscal accountability from universities and the government.

Education is a valuable tool and was responsible for the "golden age" of America in the 50s through the 70s. As education becomes more privileged, the middle class will shrink even more and the economy will become more and more unstable.

It's the responsibility of the government and schools alike to allow easy access to education, so future generations can sustain families and solve the world's problems.


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