BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The 1973 movie Paper Chase brought to life much of the academic and emotional struggle of pursuing a law degree. For whatever reason, and despite that movie, I graduated with mine from the University of Oklahoma about a decade later.
Some would believe that the rigor displayed by Professor Kingsfield [played by John Houseman in an Academy Award-winning performance] was over dramatized. However, at least one of my law school professors seemed to have perfected the Socratic Method based on the Kingsfield model.
Regardless of the degree pursued or the type of “paper” chased, rigor is a part of everyone’s college career. Fortunately for my wife and me, low tuition and fees made the future benefits of a degree greatly outweigh the challenges we faced three or four decades ago.
The greatest challenge in the 1970s was dealing with the deferral of earnings. We were tempted more than once to leave school for a job that would allow us to purchase a nice car, a boat, a motorcycle, a home or a myriad of other things that our friends who had skipped college were already enjoying.
Very low on the list of challenges of attending college in the 1970s was college debt. That was a time when the Oklahoma Legislature actually saw the value of an educated and enlightened citizenry and ascribed to a policy of funding public colleges and universities for the common good of our state.
Sure, many of us graduated with debts of $1,000 or so because it seemed that college textbooks were so expensive. Tuition was affordable and with scholarships and part-time jobs, we yearned for the day that our college degrees would yield financial rewards. But that was then.
Today, in yet another example of failed and shortsighted legislative leadership, appropriations to Oklahoma colleges and universities have been cut by 23.5% between 2008 and 2015. Devastatingly, the 2016 budget cut alone was an additional 15.9% and that was on top of the loss of $112.2 million in cuts from the 2015 budget.
As a result, Oklahoma colleges and universities increased tuition and fees 20.9% between 2008 and 2015 and this year the tuition has increased another 5% to 7% in response to budget cuts.
Student loan debt is nearly eight times higher than the average credit card debt. In 2014, 55% of Oklahoma college students graduated with average college loans totaling more than $23,000. The average debt for graduate studies and professional degrees is much higher.
College students face additional hardship because student loan interest rates are three to four times higher than those of a consumer loan and student loans balances are not dischargeable in bankruptcy like other debts.
College debt results in delayed home ownership and decreased financial security and ultimately impacts a college graduate’s ability to save for retirement.
A leading indicator of a state’s quality of life is its percentage of college graduates. Despite that fact, legislative leaders continue to shortchange our brightest and best young men and women and negatively impact all Oklahomans.
Without substantial parental assistance, loans are the only means to obtain a degree. That debt equates to endless monthly payments and a scenario where the paper being chased is a promissory note and not a diploma.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House