Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Guest Blogger: Luke Swarthout

Hi, my name is Luke Swarthout and I’m going to be guest blogging for Anya while she’s traveling over the next couple months. As a loyal Generation Debt blog reader and a fellow tiny violinist, I’m proud to fill in for Anya in her effort to highlight the growing problem of debt in our country.

A bit about me-I work for the US Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) as our Higher Education Advocate (read: policy analyst, lobbyist) in Washington, DC. The PIRGs were founded in the 1970’s on college campuses across the country by students who were tired of watching powerful interests rip off consumers, destroy the environment and who wanted to have a voice on meaningful political issues. Students formed chapters and pooled resources across the state to higher organizers and advocates to work on their behalf. I got my start in activism as a student with the MASSPIRG chapter at Amherst College working to register and mobilize my classmates to vote in the fall of 2000 and to protect 58 million acres of national forests. After I graduated from Amherst I took a job working for the PIRG students as their voice in Washington on higher education issues.

My own work focuses around issues of college access and affordability. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog, but I believe that we are falling short of our nation’s goal of equal access to college. According to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 140,000 high school graduates forgo college every year, due largely to the financial barriers. This is an outrage to anyone who values equality of opportunity regardless of race or socioeconomic status. It is also a problem for our country, because we are missing the opportunity to invest in these young people and thereby invest in America’s civic and economic health.

The second major challenge facing American higher education is college affordability. In the face of falling state funding, more schools have pushed the cost of college onto the backs of students through larger loans and more work. I won’t go on about the challenge of student debt but I will point you to our website and a report I wrote this spring looking at the impact of student debt on students taking critical public service careers. Student debt is a core issue for this blog and also my work so I’ll likely spend a lot of time on it in the coming weeks.

One other note for readers. I'm going to try to keep up with the diverse range of topics that Anya has blogged about, but my own work and life are pretty focused around student organizing, Washington, DC and federal higher education policy. If you see a link or a story that you think should be part of the discussion please email me or post in the comments.



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