Obama, Education, and Economic Inequality

President Obama gave a great speech at the NAACP last night, but before that speech he gave an interview to Black Media where he said the following (h/t JJP):

For example, the most important issue for the African-American community, according to the President, is education. "If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished," he said, arguing that getting our kids up to speed involves better teachers, greater accountability, and a combination of more resources and education reform.

I agree that education is the biggest problem facing our community, it largely seems like people coming up behind me are almost proud to revel in their ignorance. I remember seeing somewhere where a young Black male couldn't READ, and he was PROUD of that. Unfortunately the "mainstream" of Black culture seems to elevate going to prison, being a thug, and disrespecting women. I do think that all Black folks need to take advantage of all of the FREE education they can, especially considering the fact that there was a time where teaching Blacks how to read and write was a crime.

With that being said, there was something very important missing from that paragraph, COST. I graduated from high school, went straight to college and had lots of scholarships (I managed to end up with only about $8,000 in loans after 4 years at an out of state school), then I took a year off and went to law school (just graduated in May, getting ready to take the Bar in a couple of weeks) and my student loan debt is now astronomical, I did have a scholarship, but it barely covered the cost of books each year, not to mention the rising cost of tuition. When I first got to the school, it was about $900 a credit hour, by the time I graduated it had risen each year to the point where it was $1060 per credit hour. I didn't work (except for the summers), so I also had to take out loans to pay for the cost of living (about $10,000 a year). Luckily I managed to avoid private loans. With that said, my student loan payments are going to end up being approximately a house payment per month. I don't want to work for a big firm, I want to work for a gov't agency or maybe a non-profit organization.

Economically, going to school isn't really helping me right now. I'm sure it will end up paying off in the long term, but I think a lot of the younger Blacks look at people like me who did do the whole school thing, and will be in mountains of debt for YEARS (unless I write a couple of best-selling books or win the lottery), and then they look at their friend "Ray Ray" who dropped out of high school and is doing some illegal activity and living in a big house in a nice neighborhood with a gas guzzling SUV with platinum rims and they wonder why should they bother going to school.

So it's not enough to simply get Black kids though high school and send them off to a community or 4 year college, we need to get the COST of education down. Lawyers and Doctors default the most on their student loans. I wasn't surprised when I first heard that. Yet we need more lawyers and doctors to go into public service. The government loan forgiveness program is nice, but we still have to pay those astronomical loan payments for 10 years before that will kick in (and I'm not sure if whatever is paid off is taxable or not, but it probably is). The Income Based Repayment program also isn't perfect, it's nice that it gets payments down for maybe 25 years, but I know for sure whatever isn't paid off there is taxable, and your loan payments will fluctuate every year which may make it more difficult to budget.

I think fixing the cost of education is right up there with health care as far as draining people. My parents didn't take out any loans for me, all of my loans are in MY name and they are MY responsibility, and the last thing I want to do is default.

Sorry for the long rant, but I hope my point got through. Again, I'm thrilled that he actually TALKS about education that was my #1 issue during the campaign, and the biggest reason why I was supporting his candidacy.


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