Virginia Foxx has “Little Tolerance” For Your Student Loan Debt

As ThinkProgress recently reported, Representative Virginia Foxx recently said on G Gordon Liddy‘s radio show that she has “little tolerance” for those suffering from massive student loan debt:

I went through school, I worked my way through, it took me seven years, I never borrowed a dime of money. He borrowed a little bit because we both were totally on our own when we went to college, totally. […] I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that. I remind folks all the time that the Declaration of Independence says “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” You don’t have it dumped in your lap.

To hear the quote in some context, listen to it here:

This is yet another example of the submerged state problem— the inability or refusal of many people to perceive the the way government benefits them personally, preferring instead to see a narrative of self-reliance– creating a dangerous historical blindness.

Foxx graduated from UNC in 1968— which means she went to college from 1961 to 1968: smack-dab in the middle of the period of unprecedented growth in higher education that lasted from 1945 to 1975. This time period was also (and not coincidentally) a time of a great influx of federal dollars into higher education– universities were awash in federal monies, from GI Bill tuitions to Cold War  and Space Race research funding to direct subsidies on higher education to attempt to keep pace with the postwar baby boom.

I don’t mean to downplay Rep. Foxx’s commitment to her education or the sacrifices she made to get there. It can extremely difficult for a student from a poor family to succeed in higher education, especially when they are financially on their own. However, no matter her struggle, it doesn’t lessen the fact that it was simply much easier to do what she did in the 1960s than it is today. The numbers make this abundantly clear:

To take another flagship state school from the southern mid-Atlantic region, tuition and fees for a full-time student at the University of Virginia in 1970 (two years after Dr. Foxx’s completion of her Baccalaureate) was $484 for in-state students. If we go by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator, that is approximately $2,862 in today’s dollars. However, when we look at the current tuition and fee rate for a full-time, in-state, returning student (in other words, the student who is getting the best deal in terms of price per credit hour) is $11,584 a year. That’s about four times the inflation-adjusted 1970 price.

Even if we overlook the fact that she had a partner to help her financially and share costs and that it took her almost twice the “normal” amount of time to matriculate, Dr. Foxx is positing that avoidance of debt is possible for students based on her own experience at a time when school cost approximately a quarter what it does now. This is simply not a tenable model of behavior for students in the current academic economy.

Representative Foxx’s comments would merely be frustrating and irksome if she was some random congressperson. But this is a former higher education administrator, and the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, who is serving as such at a time when unemployment among young adults is at a 60-year high, and when many are anticipating student loans to be the next economic “bubble” to burst.

It is essential that our citizens– especially those who choose to serve the nation by leading it– are able to perceive the topography of history, to see how historical forces shape the facts of our world in ways that cannot be blotted out by ideology or partisan concern. Dr. Foxx is either unable or unwilling to do so when it comes to the facts of university finance, and this is especially problematic given her position. And her willingness to express a lack of sympathy for individuals who are truly caught between the massive bureaucracies of the loan providers and the skyrocketing price of tuition, rather than targeting either of these systemic problems, is especially troubling.


I am lucky. I have people.

There’s a quote from Elizabeth Warren that has been making the rounds today, and I have to say, it resonates with my own sense of history. Indeed, it reminds me of an old Teddy Roosevelt stemwinder:

There is nobody in this nation who got rich on his own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there– good for you! But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come, and sieze everything in your factory and [have to] protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look– you built a factory, and it turned into something terrific or a great idea– God bless! Keep a big hunk of it!

But part of the underlying social contract is that you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Politics aside, I think this is a truth that we should all be more conscious of. In the current divisive political environment, everyone seems to be trying to make his neighbor into the enemy. We could all use a refresher in the way the social contract works– and a reminder of how to be a little bit more human.

There’s a reason that Horatio Alger and Charles Dickens wrote about orphans. There’s nothing more terrifying– nothing more tragic– than seeing someone adrift, without a social safety net, forced to find their own way. We’re simply not equipped for it. The social fabric is the only reason any of us survive. Humans are weak creatures– we don’t have sharp teeth, or claws, or even protective fur. Our only strength comes from our empathy, our language, and our ability to work together.

I’m incredibly lucky. If you’re reading this, you are too.

I’m 32, I have a history of health problems, I’m unemployed. And I’m INCREDIBLY lucky. I’m luckier than any one person deserves to be. I’m lucky because I have people. People who care about me. Not all of those people agree with me politically, or even about my taste in food or music. But they’re my people. We have a mutual investment in one another.

Because I have people, I still have a roof over my head, I still have health insurance, and– even though it’s easy to lose sight of it– I still have a faith that SOMETHING will come my way. Not because I deserve it. But because all the people who have helped and supported me do. Life will work out. Because I have people.

America has gone through ten really rough years. We have seen ten years of being terrified, of losing ground, of feeling like we’re losing control. Domestically and internationally, things seem to just keep getting more uncertain. We’ve had to question some really fundamental faiths and assumptions. And that’s really hard.

This has led to a shift in the nation. Many, in the face of all this, have come to look at their place in life and to regard it as earned, as an accomplishment. It’s reassuring, when faced with uncertainty, to look at the world and proclaim that we got where we are because we deserve it– and that those who may have fell behind did so because they did not.

But this is a dangerous delusion. Nobody in this world got where they did alone. It is cynical and selfish and hurtful to say otherwise. Our strength lies in our ability to open up to our fellow human beings, to inspire empathy, compassion, and support. Even Ragged Dick and Oliver Twist got ahead in this manner– they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, yes, but they did it by opening up to others, by caring about those that cared about them, and helping those that needed it.

The internet has an amazing ability to build social ties, to help us all find our people, to have meaningful conversations, to support one another… To make the world better for one another. But so often, it’s used as an echo chamber where we just work up our venom for those that don’t immediately agree with us. The current cycle in the government, pumped up on a 24-hour news cycle and the instant connectivity of electronic communications does the same.

But these are our lesser instincts, our worst aspects.

The most sacred, amazing, special thing about mankind– the thing that makes us human– is our ability to relate, to care, to help. We need to remember this, on a real instinctual level, or we’re all doomed to reap what we sow.

You are not self-reliant. You are not a self-made-man. You got where you did by caring about others, and by others caring about you. Without others, we would all be lost in an uncaring wilderness, a victim of the worst manifestations of anarchy.

You have people. People have helped you. This is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to celebrate. But it’s also time to pay it forward.

I hope this isn’t misconstrued as propaganda. We have some tough choices coming up in next year’s election, and frankly, I find myself honestly undecided for the first time in my memory.

My only point is this: let’s just move forward, into the next year, actually caring about and considering our fellow men. Let’s stop letting kneejerk politics and ideology obscure the fact that we’re all in this together, that the ties that bind us are more complex and multivalent than are dreamt of in our politics. Let’s treat one another as fellow humans, and admit that one point or another, we could all use a hand up.

And at some point, we’ve all gotten one.