Student debt has exceeded $1.1 trillion, up from $250 billion in 2003, according to the College Board in its article, “Trends in College Pricing 2013.”
Furthermore, Julie Hammond, a liberal arts professor at the Portland Art Institute, said that an average CEO in the United States currently earns over 200 times more money than his or her employees, roughly a tenfold increase since the 1950s.
On Feb. 11, Hammond hosted and moderated a discussion titled “How Much Inequality is Acceptable.” While the discussion offered no immediate answers or solutions to the question, the dialogue was open and respectful. The Central Oregon Community College Multicultural Center hosted the event as part of its ongoing series, “The Season of Nonviolence.”
Hammond started with assembling attendees into small groups for face-to-face discussions. She asked the groups to share about when they first noticed differences in income. Hammond then roamed from group to group, listening to the conversations.
The audience consisted largely of Deschutes County community members over the age of 40. When Hammond asked the audience members if they have observed changes in income inequality during their lifetimes, a show of raised hands confirmed that a vast majority of the audience had seen the disparity growing larger.
With Income Inequality being an established fact in the the context of the conversation, the town hall started. Hammond and Charlotte Gilbride, who is in charge of the visiting scholar program at COCC distributed microphones to a person with their hands raised. With a microphone in tow, the citizenry were addressed with a citizen’s thoughts and opinions on the topic.
Hammond and Gilbride navigated the crowd effectively, avoiding lulls in the conversation which allowed it to build. It appeared that the audience was listening to previous people’s comments as the town hall built from United States inequality and student loans to Global inequality. However Bend and Deschutes income inequality were absent from the conversation.
The affordability of college education in the 21st century become the issue that was most local to COCC, where an in-state student credit costs $120 plus fees. At a university or private school the cost is much greater. It appeared the consensus was that it is too difficult for students to pay for college by themselves, without loans or someone else footing the bill.
Politics and policies of the Ronald Reagan Administration were mentioned, such as lowering income taxes and corporate tax loopholes. While the discussion was not a full-on condemnation of the administration, it showed the bias of the vocal audience. If there was a difference of opinion, it was not shared.
Jack Ewing | The Broadside