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Jeopardizing the future

8/5/2008, 7:20 a.m.
“I guess there’ll be no money for tuition...

Jeopardizing the future

“I guess there’ll be no money for tuition this semester.”

The collapse of the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) has created a crisis for middle-class families that are ineligible for the financial aid available to families with lower incomes. The announcement came just days before fall tuition payments were due on Aug. 1.

Even families with low credit scores were eligible for loans from MEFA, which has been providing college loans for 26 years. Last year, it provided $510 million in loans at a fixed interest rate of 6.39 percent for 20 years. The interest rate from banks is usually based on credit scores and fluctuates with interest rates in the commercial market. An upward resetting of the rate would create a financial problem for families similar to the problem with adjustable-rate mortgages.

The basic problem is that the cost of college education has risen precipitously in recent years. Room and board, tuition and miscellaneous expenses at leading colleges total about $50,000 per year. That is a burdensome expense, even for families with annual incomes in excess of $100,000. It is expected that these more affluent families will assume the $200,000 cost of a college education by paying it off over 20 years.

Even though Massachusetts is endowed with a substantial number of internationally renowned colleges and universities, the state has been stingy about providing financial aid grants to its citizens. According to reports, only $83 million has been budgeted for this coming academic year. While states on average provide grants that pay for 19 percent of college costs, Massachusetts grants underwrite for only 5 percent.

Most middle-class families understand that a college education is essential for success in the working world. Trouble in the money markets due to the subprime mortgage crisis has now impaired the financial accessibility of many families to higher education. Every state and the federal government should now recognize that the system for financing college education is flawed.

Many students will probably have to take a year off while the economy repairs the banking system. The only way that America can remain a business leader in the global economy is by developing a substantial, well-educated workforce. This process must not be hampered by disruptions in the financial markets. Locally, Gov. Deval Patrick now has a political problem, because MEFA collapsed on his watch.

Avoidable epidemic

The HIV virus has ravaged the developing world, but its impact has been just as severe among African Americans. According to a recent Black AIDS Institute report, if U.S. blacks were a separate nation, there would be 15 countries with lower rates of infection, including Botswana, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Namibia, Rwanda and Vietnam.

New data indicate that blacks in the U.S. were infected in 2006 at about eight times the rate for whites and 2.7 times the rate for Hispanics. There has been so much publicity about the danger of unprotected sex as a major cause of HIV, one must wonder why blacks have chosen to ignore the warnings.

There is a tendency among blacks to blame such disparities on the system or the legacy of slavery. That may well be, but it is clear that the remedy to reduce future HIV infection is self-discipline. By its very nature, self-discipline can be attained only by personal effort.

There has never been a greater incentive for black leaders to inculcate self-discipline as a cultural and community value. The survival of African Americans depends upon it.