(The Tonawanda News / Tonawanda, N.Y.)
College students and their families should be grateful President Obama elevated an issue that’s pressing pocketbooks across the country into the national discourse. College, whether a two-year or four-year school, is a necessity that is increasingly priced as a luxury, leaving graduates to pay down a mountain of debt just as they take their fist steps into independence and adulthood.
A few statistics: The average four-year college graduate leaves school with $26,000 in debt. The cost of college has risen 250 percent over the last three decades, but the median income has only risen by about 15 percent, making the idea of starting a college fund with a few dollars a week stashed in a piggy bank in a child’s infancy impossible.
And while we’re heartened the president addressed this important issue, some of his proposals miss the mark.
His broadest reform proposal includes instituting new college evaluations conducted by the federal Department of Education. We agree students and parents need a more comprehensive, understandable rubric by which to evaluate schools. As is the case with most education reforms, however, the devil is in the details. Grading colleges’ performance relative to cost and graduates’ success in finding a job is important, but it isn’t the only defining factor in what makes a school the right choice. Most universities specialize in certain fields of study and that can distort the picture.
Take the president’s host, the University at Buffalo, as an example: A student seeking to study medicine or biology would weigh the university more favorably than other schools that don’t have the same renown in that field. A simple analysis of the generic UB student’s post-graduate success, irrespective of discipline, diminishes the school’s appearance and might prompt prospective students to look elsewhere.
Given this reality, tying college evaluations to federal funding -- as the president seeks -- is a risky proposition. We would much prefer to treat the evaluations as a useful advisory tool for students.
A second proposal is capping a graduate’s student loan payment to 10 percent of their income. That sounds like a reasonable idea, but it could be tweaked. Many graduates say they need immediate help with student loan payments. Extending the grace period for starting repayment from six months after graduation to 12 would be an excellent start. Given the persistently high unemployment rate among young people, an extra six months to find a job and establish themselves as economically independent adults would make a huge difference.
And the loan payment cap should be more flexible. Including a sunset provision of seven to 10 years, for example, would be an incentive for students to pay off their loans quicker. Offering graduates a lifetime cap on their maximum payment sets the bar too low and could extend the life of the loan, leading to more interest paid over time.
Policy differences aside, we salute the president for addressing the topic and hope lawmakers in Washington take heed — higher education reform is critical.
Manning’s revelations don’t rise to ‘whistleblower’ level
(The Record-Eagle / Traverse City, Mich.)
Bradley Manning is no Edward Snowden.
And though both are accused of going public with secret government documents, the comparisons pretty much end there.
While Snowden’s revelations have touched off a painful but long-overdue review of the government’s excesses under cover of the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 laws, what Manning did was simply hubris.
“When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,” Manning said during trial. His “decisions” — while an active-duty Army intelligence analyst — were to give up hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks to expose what he thought was the the U.S. military’s “bloodlust.”
So the 35-year sentence Manning got this week was leniency itself. With good behavior and credit for the more than three years he has already been held, Manning could be out in about 6½ years, according to his defense attorney David Coombs.
And in the end, the documents he gave to Wikileaks did little more than put fellow soldiers and others at risk. Manning digitally copied and released more than 700,000 documents, including Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables, while working in Iraq in 2010.
Manning also leaked video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that mistakenly killed at least nine people, including a Reuters photographer.
Manning’s lawyer argued his client had been full of youthful idealism and “really, truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference.”
But it was shown that al-Qaida used material from the helicopter attack in a propaganda video and some of the material was found in Osama bin Laden’s hideout after he was killed.
Government witnesses also testified that the leaks endangered U.S. intelligence sources, some of whom were moved to other countries for their safety.
Dubbing Manning a “whistleblower” then — someone who exposes government or corporate wrongdoing with an eye to righting a wrong or bringing lawbreakers to justice — is a stretch.
What Snowden did, however, was much more calculated and useful. Though the programs he exposed were legal and approved by Congress and the judiciary, the scope of the internal spying his documents exposed was a much-needed shock to the system.
Yes, what Snowden did was criminal. And yes, what Manning did was criminal. But that’s where the comparisons end.