“Aol.com…Who’s still using AOL?” It was an email domain which kept coming up while I was researching the Midlands’ political candidates’ contact information for the Midlands Anchor’s new Local Election Page.
AOL, or America Online, was one of the earliest internet providers. It served millions of Americans using ‘dial-up’ technology. However, with the introduction of broadband internet in the early 2000s, AOL became relatively insignificant in the tech world as their ‘dial-up’ infrastructure became obsolete.
I was dumbfounded. Why would anyone even be using AOL for email, when they could be using Google or Microsoft, both of which provide a greater variety of services and are much more popular. Not a single one or my peers, or even my parents, use an AOL service.
The answer, most likely, is because American politicians are much older than the population they represent.
As of May of 2016, the mean age of the 170 South Carolinian State legislators was approximately 55 years old*. The average age of a US Congressperson is 58 years old. Meanwhile, the median age of South Carolinians is 38 years old, as is the median age of Americans.
Having older, more experienced, and more knowledgeable individuals representing us in our government is not a problem. In fact, it is a good thing. We need elected officials who are accomplished politicians – who are skillful navigators of the political system. And, we need elected officials who represent the interests of the older members of our community.
However, we need elected officials to represent the interests of the younger members of our community as well. Believe it or not, there are issues that face younger members of our society that older members, and our politicians, never needed to confront. One issues specifically is the incredibly inflated cost of higher education we face today.
If a politician were 55 years old, he or she would have likely entered college in 1979 (at age 18). In 1980, the average cost of tuition for one year at a public, four-year college for an in-state student was $2,320 in 2015 USD.
Today, the average cost of tuition for one year at a public, four-year college for an in-state student is $9,410. When you factor in room and board, the cost increases to $19,548. Students at the University of South Carolina pay much more than this: annual tuition at USC for an in-state student in the 2015-2016 school year was $11,482. Coincidently, that rate was just approved for another 3.25% increase for the upcoming academic year.
After factoring in room and board, books, and supplies, it is not beyond reason that the cost of earning a four-year degree from our state’s largest university exceeds $100,000. I personally paid over $27,000 my freshman year alone. This is not an expense I can pay by working a summer job like one could in 1979 (I actually worked two prior to my freshman year, and I did not come close).
And it truly is an expense that we younger individuals must undertake in order to live as a member of the modern American middle class. Some may say that it is not essential to receive a college degree to have a profitable career. However, this is not true. The median annual starting salary of an individual with only a high school education is less than $30,000. With an Associate’s or Technical Degree, one may expect to earn a bit more – approximately $35,000. However, four-year college graduates receive a median salary of $50,000.
Of course, we can blame the inflating cost of college administration. This is a problem. However, a major culprit to the rising cost of college is our state government’s cuts in higher education funding.
Adjusted for inflation, South Carolina has decreased funding to higher education over the past eight years by more than 37%. In other words, the state government of South Carolina is spending $4,000 dollars less per student than it did in 2008. All during one of the worst recessions our nation has seen.
This puts an incredible burden on millennials, who must take on life-crushing debt to ensure they have the education they need to be self-sufficient and productive members of our state. However, the families of our state are put under a great deal of monetary strain as well, as they must work tirelessly to help financially support their college students.
And this is one of the many reasons that members of the millennial generation, and perhaps members of our South Carolina community and our nation as well, have become so disenchanted with our political system.
Our representatives do not seem to represent us. They do not seem to represent our interest. And certainly they do not seem to understand the financial burden we are put under when they cut funding to higher education, an essential institution of the South Carolinian and the American middle class.
This election cycle, politicians will run on a platform of cutting taxes for large businesses in the name of conservatism. However, the best way for our politicians to be conservative, to conserve South Carolina’s middle class, and to conserve our way of life, is to fund our institutions of higher education.
It is time for politicians to represent the younger members of our community. It is time for politicians to represent our middle class families.
It is time for politicians to represent South Carolina.
*Information pertaining to age could only be found for 160 of the 170 members of the General Assembly of South Carolina (94.11%).