Dear Mr. President,
I really have to admire the students in the UK demonstrating against rising University fees. I don't support acts of violence and I do hope that no one is hurt, but these youth have a right to be upset by their government's decision. While petty and spiteful individuals with experience in the American system of higher education might get some satisfaction seeing our British counterparts forced to face the unreasonable burden of educational expenses that we've been struggling with for a generation, I don't think gloating is particularly productive for either nation. The fact is that American students should have been protesting tuition hikes decades ago. The British students taking to the streets now may not get their way, but at least they won't look back and wonder why they capitulated without a fight. Here, the system has failed us, continues to fail us, but we remain largely silent.
I'm lucky, this year. I qualified for excellent financial aid- not because of a drastic change in my financial circumstances, but because I finally became old enough for the government to stop expecting my parents to support me. A system such as this-one which willfully disregards the economic realities faced by most students and their families- cannot stand for long. A society is stronger and healthier when its people are educated. I don't think that making it more difficult for many and outright impossible for some to access higher education is a socially, fiscally or morally responsible policy.
I appreciate that under your administration paying for college has gotten easier for American students, especially those from low-income backgrounds. Unfortunately, economic conditions and the poor priorities of those who write the Federal and State budgets have led to decreases in funding for public Universities across the country, forcing staff and spending cuts that decrease the value of the education provided at these institutions even as tuition steadily rises. Britain is joining the US in our struggle to balance the desire to offer the best educational institutions in the world and the inability of individuals (or, increasingly, governments) to pay for it. A British friend and I were discussing this today and he pointed out that the money raised by the increase in University fees might help British Universities hire better educators and provide more resources for those attending. Some good might possibly come of this, but it will inevitably be at the expense of the poorest students who will no longer be able to access these resources at all. In the end we both sympathized with the angry, rioting students who'd just seen their educational hopes and dreams lost to the recession.
As I glimpse the light at the end of the dark tunnel that is finals week, I have to say I'm more grateful than ever for the assistance I'm receiving this year. I know I could not be in school without it. I can't say for sure that our country will benefit in equal measure once I get my degree, but I do know that without it I would feel stuck, lost, unable to live up to my full potential.
So as I watch the news from the UK and hope against hope that students there don't end up struggling the way I did as a younger undergraduate student to pay their expenses, I can't help but wonder if those of us who aren't struggling to pay our tuition ought to be doing more to help advocate for those at home and abroad who are.