Pierce professors debate taxes and majors to alleviate student debt problems

College tuition has been rising for both community colleges and universities. Students now face tough choices when determining how to pay for higher education and often find themselves in large amounts of debt before they have a job.

Senate bill 1017, known as the oil severance tax, is being proposed as an option to help lower the cost for students. In a debate hosted by the Resistance Against Gutting Education (RAGE) group Thursday in the Great Hall, Professor of Economics Pamela Brown and Professor of Sociology James McKeever debated on how best to fund education and the passing of SB 1017.

The money that the bill generates comes from a tax that would be placed on oil companies for extracting oil in our state. Currently California is the only major oil producing state that does not have such a tax, according to Gustavo Sandoval, an intern with the American Federation of Teachers.

“50 percent of all the money that’s generated is supposed to go to the California community college system, the Cal State University system, and the University of California system,” Sandoval said.

The other half of the tax money will be split evenly between funding for medical programs such as Medical, Medicaid, and the Covered California program, and California parks and recreation facilities, Sandoval told more than 100 students before the debate.

“I’m for the passage of senate bill 1017,” McKeever said. “This is a very wealthy group of people. There was a time when the wealthy of this country was taxed 90 percent of their income. They didn’t mind as much as the wealthy do now who get taxed 17 percent of their income and the reason why is they kind of understood what their taxes went to– the infrastructure of the country itself.”

With the increase in funding for education as a result of these taxes, the financial burden would potentially be less for students. This would prevent students from being excluded from higher education simply because of their inability to afford classes.

“I would like to see education become free again. I think education is a right that most people should have. Let the system wash you out if you’re unable to compete or if you’re unable to sit there as a student because college is not for you,” McKeever said. “But I don’t think what should wash you out is the fact that you can’t afford an education. That seems unjust and unfair and I see this as a social justice issue.”

One problem that Brown, who is against SB 1017, believes has contributed to the financial problem is the fact that many majors aren’t viable in the career market. After graduation these students find it difficult to apply their major in the workforce.

“The majors have gotten wackier and more exotic, and more unsustainable when it comes to finding a career. What concerns me is the science and technology that we use everyday have been neglected,” Brown said. “We’re warning students to pick a major that actually has commercial value. I think the most efficient way to fund education is to get a student loan and then once you get your job you have the end dues of the service pay off all the costs including student loans.”

By being more conscious of this when choosing a major, Brown said, students will be better equipped to pay off debts. This wouldn’t require the need for more taxes, which Brown believes isn’t the right approach. She believes that schools could be more efficient with money they already have.

Brown argues that as a taxpayer she is helping pay for services that she has no interest in or will never use.

“I think students should pay their own tuition or get a loan to pay for their own educations. We hear a lot about that education should be free but of course it’s not free. The taxpayers pay for it,” Brown said. “The taxpayers are paying for your education so they can use your services in the future but taxpayers may not value every major that comes out of a community college.”

With the public paying for education, less is spent on savings and pension funds.

The current system has sacrificed a competitive spirit, Brown said.

“They’re obviously not going to fall anytime soon because we do not have a lot of competition when it comes to providing those services. Most of the educational institutions are unionized. They are run by labor cartels,” Brown said.“If you have a great professor and you want them to have more classes, the union decides who gets additional units. And you don’t so you’re really getting overpriced mediocre service because your economic rights have been taken away by protected union rules.”

The Internet is not being used to its potential and Last In First Out policies have created unacceptable circumstances such as Bhavini Bhakta who lost four separate teaching jobs at four separate schools over the course of eight years, according to a handout quoting unionwatch.org that was provided by Brown before the debate.

Pierce has recently experienced the firing of a Kathy Zanghi, account manager of The Foundation, Pierce’s nonprofit organization. The charity is a separate function from the college so tax money such as what SB 1017 would generate could not be used toward situations like Zanghi’s.

More taxes are not the best solution, Brown argued. She spoke of classrooms where costs could be lower by having one good teacher with a larger class instead of three mediocre teachers with smaller 12 person classes.

“You pay more to go here than I paid to go to Cal State LA 10 years ago,” McKeever said. “Obama kept the interest rates on student loans down, which is good, but with these lower interest rates all these universities started thinking they could charge higher tuition. They’ve pointed out the next great financial crisis is going to be about student loans when the average student is going to start taking out nearly $100,000 in loans.

Current students could become the generation waiting to buy a house, both speakers agreed, but with a potential major that makes it difficult to compete in the future job market and large amounts of student debt, the wait may be longer than it was for their parents or grandparents.

A date has not been set on the vote for SB 1017 and students are encouraged to call or write to their state senator with their thoughts.

“We really want people to get the word out and call their senators. Let them know how they feel,” said John Del Valle, 23, a math major and intern with the AFT who co-moderated the debate.