Tuition battle in U.S. is a thumb war compared with Chile and Quebec

College is too expensive ... everywhere

Jack Rodolico By Jack Rodolico

During his campaign for the presidency 20 years ago, Bill Clinton out-cooled George H. W. Bush with a saxophone solo on “The Arsenio Hall Show.” Now, channeling his own inner Clinton – and a little Barry White – President Barack Obama tried to out-cool Mitt Romney this week. With the backing of Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Obama slow jammed a re-election plea to young voters on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.”

The president was in the midst of a three-state tour of colleges in North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado, pushing Congress to stop interest rates on student loans from doubling this summer, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Romney also supports keeping rates low.

So how do students outside the U.S deal with college tuition fees?  Latitude News asked students in the cafeteria at Pueblo Community College in Pueblo, Colorado, to commiserate with the global community.

How much is too much? Just look north and south to see a lot of smart kids in very deep debt.

Quebec is mad as hell

University students in the Canadian province of Quebec have been on strike from classes for the past 11 weeks.

Students march with a sign asking to negotiate as they protest against tuition hikes in downtown Montreal, Quebec, April 26, 2012. (REUTERS/Christinne Muschi)

Quebec has been planning to raise university tuition by about $325 per year for the next five years. That means the graduating class of 2018 would pay $1,625 dollars more than the class of 2012. This week, even high school student joined the protests.

Quebec actually has the lowest tuition rates in Canada, and the tuition hike is about half of the average tuition increase for state colleges in the U.S. last year.

But Quebec’s students are anything but grateful, and, by any measure, the protests have gotten out of hand, morphing into mass arrests and random violence. Riots broke out in Montreal on Thursday night.

Student federations finally convinced Quebec’s Education Minister to sit down at a negotiating table this week, and today Premier Jean Charest said the province would phase the increase in over seven years, not five.

“Access for all people” in Latin America

Canadian students are marching in solidarity with protesters in Chile, who are pushing for a free higher-education system.

Student protesters take cover from a jet of water during a demonstration against the government demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago, Chile, April 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Carlos Vera)

“In Latin America, the assumption is public subsidies should go to public education to allow access for all people,” says Francisco Marmolejo, the executive director of the Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration, a collection of about 162 universities around the world that’s based in Arizona.

“Even though a university is free or almost free, it doesn’t cover the cost of living,” Marmolejo told Latitude News. “In the U.S. we use loans to cover cost of living.”

So while low-income students throughout Latin America may find an affordable school, they may not have the means to pay for food and rent.

In Mexico President Felipe Calderón recently rolled out a loan program for students seeking to attend private universities. Marmolejo says the program will improve access to private colleges, with a critical caveat.

“If it is not properly managed and controlled,” he says, “it could lead to situations like in the U.S. and Chile, where you have students finishing degrees with a high amount of loans.”

Marmolejo adds that parents in Latin America are often willing to risk considerable debt to ensure their child goes to a prestigious private school, even though they might receive a superior education at a public university – a culturaStoriesl pressure any American family can identify with.

Why can’t we all just get along?

Back in Pueblo, Colorado, college is not getting any more affordable for one group of students: undocumented immigrants. As Obama was slow jamming, another education bill was dying a slow death in the Colorado House of Representatives.

In the U.S., tuition at state colleges increased more than 8 percent last year. Still, public colleges are bastions of affordable education for many Americans, particularly those who attend schools in their home state. But even though many undocumented students call Colorado home, they are still required to pay out-of-state rates that are three to four times what locals pay.

The dead bill is called Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow (Colorado ASSET), and it would have allowed undocumented students to pay only $2,000 more than in-state tuition rates.

A demonstrator lies on the ground during a demonstration against the government demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago, Chile, April 25, 2012.(REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado)

Educators for Fair Consideration estimates 7,000 to 13,000 undocumented students are attending college in the U.S., all of whom are ineligible for the federal student loans that most Americans rely on to get through college. Instead, they usually pay cash, says Lynea Hansen with Higher Education Access Alliance, the coalition who pushed for passage of Colorado ASSET.

“I met three undocumented immigrants who are salutatorians or valedictorians of their schools,” Hansen told Latitude News. “We’re talking about some of the best and brightest who can’t go to school.”

Colorado ASSET has failed to pass six years in a row. Meanwhile, 13 states do offer in-state tuition rates for undocumented students – a handful even offer state financial aid, whereas six states have an outright ban on in-state tuition or the enrollment of undocumented students in public colleges.

Still, Hansen is hopeful.

“This is the first time we got a Republican to vote for it,” she says. “It is the closest it’s ever gotten.”

Back on Capital Hill, Republicans and Democrats are equally divided – both want to keep student loan interest rates from doubling, but disagree on how to pay for it. The Republican-controlled House passed a bill today keeping interest rates low for another year by defunding a portion of Obama’s healthcare law. If the bill makes it through the Senate, the Slow-Jammer in Chief has promised to veto it.

Voices featured above belonged to Jim Aguilera, Dominic Cavanagh, Kendall Flemmer, Jonathan Massey, Kindel McDermott, Rebecca Nolan, Pete Lopez and Crystal Young. Audio recorded by Shanna Lewis.