Officials discuss cost of higher education at economics panel

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • April 5, 2012

Economy barbara
Congressman Rep. Mike Capuano
Congressman Rep. Mike Capuano

Four politically active panelists engaged in a heated debate about financing higher education in a discussion organized by Emerson Democrats, Emerson Republicans, and Emerson Peace and Social Justice Tuesday night in the Walker Building.

Democrat Congressman Rep. Mike Capuano, State Committee Woman Rachel V. Kemp, United for a Fair Economy Representative Steve Schnapp, and Boston City GOP Chairman Brad Williams engaged in heated conversation in front of a room of about 50 students and faculty members.

Economics professor Nejem Raheem led the debate, entitled “Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Room,” from a list of questions students contributed to in a public Google Document.  

When posed with the question of how to deal with the student loan crisis, each panel member engaged in an opinionated discussion that controlled the majority of the debate. 

Capuano contributed the most out of the four speakers, often growing angry and yelling over his fellow panel members, particularly Williams. 

Capuano said he attributes the problems students have with paying off loans to the switch from government-backed programs to loans from private corporations.

“Experience says the government does it better,” said Capuano. “It doesn’t have a profit; mode, they just want to educate the next generation. Private enterprise has to make a profit, we need to get the next generation educated.”

He also said it is societal judgement whether or not citizens want to invest money in the education of future students. He explained that if the population is willing to pay more tax funds, then the system can be improved.

While Capuano spoke of the loan crisis in the U.S., Schnapp referenced the education model in Denmark.

“They made a choice about higher education,” Schnapp said. “Everybody goes without costs. The entire country pays for it with tax. There is a country that has taken value in our youth. They have a very well-educated working class.”

Capuano said the taxes in Denmark are an average of 20 percent more than the taxes in the United States. 

“I’m a liberal, I’m not afraid of taxing,” he said. “But if I said tomorrow I’m going to raise taxes from 20 to 40 percent, people would shoot me.”

Williams, who attended Middlebury College in Vermont 20 years ago, said he paid $17,000 per year in tuition. The cost of the college now is $53,420 a year, according to the Middlebury’s website. 

“Why is college for four years so expensive now?” he said. “You see colleges competing on dining halls and other facilities, and nothing that has to do with education.” 

He also said students should take into account trade jobs in today’s hard job market.

“We should convince people to go be plumbers and electricians,” Williams said. “These are good jobs.”

Capuano reiterated the importance of these workers and made jokes related to Emerson students’ artistic nature. 

“How are you going to get back and forth if the T shuts down?” he asked. “Are you going to paint it? We need construction workers.”

Jamie Kaplan, a freshman visual and media arts major, attended the discussion.

“It was nice to see it was fairly bipartisan,” she said. 

Samm Leska, the president of Emerson Democrats, agreed and said she believed the unbiased nature was refreshing. 

However, Williams said he felt Capuano focused too much on his platform for his own election.

“We heard Congressman Capuano’s stump speech a little more than I would’ve liked to see,” he said in an interview with Beacon.

But overall, each panelist agreed that a college education will only help students find a job. 

“College is highly correlated to making more money in life,” said Williams during the discussion. “The more education you get the more money you get.”