Saturday, September 3, 2016

WATCH: Why is college so expensive?

What does racism have to do with the high cost of college? Everything.

Dear fellow MoveOn member,

I’m Heather McGhee, president of Demos, a progressive think tank and MoveOn ally.

What if I told you that one of the main reasons that college costs are so high for everyone—plunging students into decades of debt—is racism?

This year, presidential candidates have called for eliminating tuition and returning to debt-free college—but this is not some wild new idea. Not so long ago, public college was debt-free. It wasn’t magic. It was a common-sense public investment in the nation’s prosperity: enough public money to keep public college tuition low and affordable for all.

In 1970, for example, UCLA tuition and fees were $475, or around $2,900 in today’s dollars.1 Now they stand at over $12,000, because in the last 25 years, states have cut about a quarter out of every dollar in funding for public college, pushing up tuition and forcing students to make up the gap with loans that total a staggering $1.3 trillion dollars.2,3 The student loan crisis has placed an enormous burden on an entire generation, and threatens to drag down our economy.

Why did this happen? Racism. Or more specifically—racism used as a political weapon to undermine the very idea of supporting anything public that might include people of color.

Will you take three minutes to watch and share the just-released What Racism Has to Do with the High Cost of College? (And don't worry if you're not on Facebook. We've added a YouTube link below!)


It’s like when Southern towns preferred to drain their public swimming pools after courts ordered them integrated. But in this case, the public pool was the affordable college system that used to be the envy of the world—yet another example of how when racism wins, we all lose.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can afford to reinvest in our state college system and rebuild the pathways to the middle class for the largest, most diverse generation in American history.

That's why I teamed up with UC Berkeley Law professor and author of Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney López, my colleague at Demos, and, to tell this story of how racism contributes to the high cost of college and what we can do about it. 

We can fight the racism in our politics and make college once again affordable and accessible for the working and middle class. But we must do it together. We can’t let racism foreclose the future for the students of today or tomorrow.

Please click here now to watch and share What Racism Has to Do with the High Cost of College with your friends and family.

Thanks for all you do.

—Heather McGhee

P.S. If you're not on Facebook, click here to access the video on YouTube.


1. "UCLA General Catalog 1970-1971," University of California Los Angeles, May 1970
Figure calculated using Consumer Price Index.

2.  "Financial Stability Oversight Council,", 2016

3. "Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System,", last updated August 5, 2016

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