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Columns January 31, 2012 //  by  // 6 Comments

Insulting advice

"Students take fewer classes per semester. They take more years to get through. Why? Because they have free money… I would tell students, ‘Get through as quick as you can. Borrow as little as you can. Have a part-time job.’ But that’s very different from the culture that has grown up in the past 20 years.” — Presidential candidate Newt Gringrich, speaking at Republican gathering in Stuart, Fla. on Jan. 28. | Wikimedia Commons

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich needs no introduction, being one of the most scandalized Republican runners. However, he apparently needs a lesson about college.

“Students take fewer classes per semester. They take more years to get through. Why? Because they have free money,” Gingrich said to Republicans in Florida last week.

The quote ended up in the Washington Post and spread to newspapers like the Houston Chronicle. There is no telling how many college students — former and present — read his words on the Internet.

If there were any young college students planning to vote for him prior to the remarks, there should be none afterward. Gingrich must know how wrong his words were. Not wrong in an insensitive or rude sense — wrong as in false.

First, there is “free” money, but there is no such thing as free money. Gingrich should be aware of this thanks to all the campaign contributions he’s received. Free money is as real as unicorns and honest politicians. What most students use to pay tuition is not “free” money: student loans and credit cards. Both of these things students must pay pack with interest.

Secondly, students take fewer classes per semester, true enough. Many students enroll longer and delay graduation. But this is because students have almost no money. With little money, many students take fewer classes and work to pay off their tuition.

The only answer to why Gingrich would alienate himself from young college-bound voters with such insults is that he thinks he does not need the young vote. By insulting the young, he compliments the old.

“I would tell students, ‘Get through as quick as you can. Borrow as little as you can. Have a part-time job.’ But that’s very different from the culture that has grown up in the last 20 years,” Gingrich said.

The only culture differences between now and 20 years ago is the cost of tuition. This may be news to Gingrich who has not attended college in years. He might expect an 18-year-old not to vote, but the average UH undergraduate is 22 years old. The average UH graduate student is 29. We’re not an anomaly, which puts his “culture of 20 years ago” comment out the window.

Age does not entitle him to be rude or ignorant. When he mentioned borrowing little and working part-time, he did not realize these are common steps, that completing college in eight semesters is no easy feat.

Other candidates have yet to show a cold shoulder to young voters. Rick Santorum was quoted saying that President Barack Obama wanted more students in college to “indoctrinate” the young into a “left-wing ideology,” but this isn’t technically insulting students or voters per se.

A 21-year-old in New Hampshire asked Mitt Romney in Dec. 2011 why college students should vote for him. Romney answered bluntly.

“What I can promise you is this: When you get out of college, if I’m president you’ll have a job,” Romney said. “If President Obama is re-elected, you will not be able to get a job.”

Admittedly, Romney was talking to only the one student. The message is still a bit hard to swallow. Will students not be able to get a job if the incumbent is re-elected?

Last but not least, Ron Paul has no trouble getting young voter support nor is he likely to insult them. Although Paul is not the only Republican candidate with a limited-government stance that appeals to young entrepreneurs, Paul won 31 percent of the youth vote (ages 18-29) in the South Carolina exit poll — showing off his popularity with student bodies. Gingrich got second place of that age group, but if he continues to make these insulting remarks about college students, that number might not mean much for long.

Not that it will make a difference if students stay indoors on election day. Some candidates are counting on it.

David Haydon is a political science senior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com.

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  • Anonymous

    The free money he is referring to is financial aid and grants, not student loans and credit card debt. Should students who continue to enroll in the minimum number of hours, do not work a part-time job, and delay graduation to their fifth, sixth, or seventh year continue to receive assistance from taxpayers?

    As a former student who enrolled in the maximum number of hours, graduated in three years, worked a part-time job the entire time, and did not receive any financial aid or grants, I share Newt's feelings towards those who slack off and continue to receive money from taxpayers.

    Also, if you are stupid enough to use a credit card to pay tuition, I suggest you enroll in a course in money management.

    Finally, your beloved Ron Paul has said that government has no role in education and that he would eliminate all federal financial aid, scholarships, and loans to college students.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=655757915 Casey Crittenden

      Your situation is definitely an exception to this rule. I'm not speaking for myself, but I there are many college students who have one or more children. If that person takes 7 years to do what took you only 3 years, that is a feat in itself. To simplify something as complex as the 3-5 years between high school and the real world in a couple of sentences shows lack of compassion and understanding of what it is like to be in other people's shoes.

      Speaking for myself here, I changed my major 3 times since I have been at UH. I have also taken summer school, and worked to pay my own tuition and living. The measly $20,000 a year I make working part time barely pays for living expenses.

      A real investment would be in universities so that students don't have $50,000 of loans to pay back once they graduate, only to make $30,000 a year after they graduate. I should not have to put my credit at risk because of my desire for a college education.

  • Someone

    I heard unicorns were real in Equestria.

    But seriously with everyone needing a degree it clogs certain colleges at UH (particularly engineering) that are full on core classes nearly as soon as they're open. Reminds me too well of browser games.

    As for Anon there is nothing wrong with using a credit card seeing that I distrust of eChecks and online banking as a whole. Plus the joys of the web is that these comments are impossible to prove.

  • brucejmartin

    Newt's political hot air is both symptomatic and strategic in his radical wing's war against education in the United States. Since the culture wars began, and before, his kind point to educated citizens as dangerous and suspiciously open-minded, a threat to the republic. His minions eat this rhetoric up like cotton candy — it helps them imagine the evil progressive boogey man in the closet while making themselves feel justified/righteous about their own (often comfortable) situation. We should expect more assaults on public higher education from the far right. Critical thinkers are indeed a danger to Newt and his ilk.

  • Anonymous

    Someone,

    There is nothing wrong with using a credit card so long as you have the cash on hand to pay it off in it's entirety each month as soon as the bill arrives, and you don't carry a balance or accrue interest on the payments. Actually, this would be a smart way to earn airline miles.

    However, the columnist seemed to suggest that people who could not afford college were using credit cards or loans to pay it off, and in that case, credit cards are a very poor decision because their interest rates are astronomical compared to student loans.

  • Anonymous

    correction: its

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