Winter can be a miserable time in New Hampshire. When it’s cold outside, all you really want to do is curl up with a warm dog on your lap. This was especially true for me last Monday, when my phone rang after a long day at work. Instead of taking a breather, I found myself driving out into a snowstorm at 9 o’clock at night.
Why, you may ask? It’s because the call was from CNN, to let me know I could attend Senator Amy Klobuchar's Town Hall meeting that night in Manchester.
Even though I’d submitted a request online to attend, to be honest, I wasn’t all that excited when I got the call. The event was an hour’s drive from my house, the weather was bad, and Klobuchar is just one of the dozens of presidential hopefuls who overrun our state every four years. But when Carry from CNN told me I could ask a question, I couldn’t say no. I knew this could be an opportunity to bring an issue I care deeply about into the national conversation.
I had to ask Senator Klobuchar if she would support Free College for All.
Just about every month since I graduated from the University of New Hampshire two years ago, I’ve paid roughly the equivalent of my rent in student loans. I was lucky to have some financial help from my parents, but so many of my friends and family members didn’t have that and ended up graduating with crippling debt.
Here in the Granite State, we have one of the most expensive state universities in the country. Young people in New Hampshire graduate with the highest student debt load per capita. That’s why I drove for an hour in the snow to speak with Senator Klobuchar.
When it was my turn, I walked up to the red X in the Saint Anselm College auditorium that marked the spot I should stand on so the television cameras could see me, and asked my question:
“Will you stand with my generation and end the student debt crisis by supporting free college for all? And would you include undocumented and formerly incarcerated people in that program?
I made sure to end with, “If you could please start your answer with a clear yes or no, I would really appreciate it.”
Sen. Klobuchar listened carefully, but ignored my request for a yes or no answer.
Instead, she talked about making it easier for students to refinance their debt, and lower the cost of meaningful two-year degrees and technical training. These things do make sense to me, but they were not answers to my question.
Fortunately, CNN host Don Lemon wasn’t going to let Sen. Klobuchar’s off the hook: he got her to respond before moving on to the next question. Here’s her response:
“I wish- if I was a magic genie and could give it (free college) to everyone, and we could afford it, I would." Lemon pressed her to respond directly, and she said, "I am not for free four-year college for all, no."
Senator Klobuchar’s response left me underwhelmed. Magic isn’t going to solve our student debt crisis - bold leadership will. I want to elect someone who will go to Washington and fight for real solutions for young people like me.
It’s not that Senator Klobuchar doesn’t care; she just sounds out of touch. It seems like Klobuchar still believes we are still living in a world where if you just work hard and buckle down, you can get ahead.
When I was a kid, I heard this this same story countless times. But as I got older, I began to see the disparity of wealth in our country, and realized the story I had been told, the story of the American Dream, it wasn’t true anymore. If I wanted to get by - let alone get ahead - I needed to be able to afford to go to college, and increasingly that means having a giant pile of money.
I was lucky to have a family that was able to help me pull through, but for millions of young people, the costs of college - books, tuition and housing - are just too expensive.
Education is a human right, but our government increasingly treats it like a luxury restricted to the wealthy few. Over the past 30 years, federal and state governments have slashed public education spending. Tuition has skyrocketed to previously unimaginable numbers, and institutions of higher education, even those that are non-profit, have become increasingly dedicated to padding the pockets of their upper administrators, who act more like corporate CEOs than educators.
When I talk to people about Free College for All, I sometimes hear things like, “I worked my way through college, why can’t you?” Or “maybe you could afford tuition if you stopped spending so much on avocado toast?”
This narrative may make sense to a generation that grew up in an era where college was three times less expensive than it is today. But it’s not reality for most people in this county, especially recent graduates like me and students who are still in school.
Here in New Hampshire, we have an opportunity to engage each and every presidential candidate around this question, and we will. Together, we can change the narrative about Free College for All. We can elect a president who will support a program where everyone in this country, including formerly incarcerated and undocumented people will have access to free higher education.
Will you join me in making Free College for All a key issue in the 2020 Elections?