Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Education Access is Reproductive Justice

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March 26, 2015

The most recent budget plan put out by Congress includes some serious cuts to federal student loan programs. It would freeze the levels of Pell Grants being offered, even though currently the level is tied to inflation, which does not rise at the same rate as higher education costs. It would also charge interest on student loans while the students are still in school. This would have a chilling effect on the amount of student debt we are saddled with, which is already astronomically high.

To make matters worse, the new budget would completely get rid of the loan repayment plans that make it possible for anyone to pay down that astronomical debt. This budget would spell economic disaster for millions of student who already have student loan debt, or may want to get an education in the future.

For most people, the importance of federal student aid programs is not news. We all know how critical these programs are for increasing availability to higher education. And we know how important education is for building a prosperous society.

But something many people don’t think about is how these kinds of programs affect our reproductive decisions. The affordability and accessibility of higher education has a huge impact on the decisions people make concerning relationships and reproduction.

The biggest way this issue affects reproductive justice is in supporting our young parents. Education, and specifically higher education, is the best way to secure an economically independent and stable future.

For young parents, the decision to attend college can be one that is difficult in the short term but extremely beneficial in the long term, both for their family and for society. Recognizing this long term benefit offers us as a society the incentive to make it easier for these young parents to be able to obtain the education that will make them more independent, productive, and active members of society.

So how does cutting these programs affect the decisions young parents make? It could cause many people to choose not to pursue a degree. College is expensive, and getting student loans and going into debt may not be the best option for some young parents hoping not to mortgage their family’s future.

So instead, they may choose to work a low-wage job, and could end up stuck in that situation for a long time. This makes it harder for them to save for their children’s education, putting them in this same difficult scenario.

Another way this can be about reproductive justice is in when people choose to become parents. Often, young couples may want to begin having children at an early stage in their lives. However, if college is too expensive, these young people may have to delay starting a family until later in life, which can alter their plans.

This may not seem like a serious issue to some, but consider that having children while under the burden of crushing student debt is not a choice many want to make. It is not only an issue of young people waiting until they graduate college to have children, they may end up waiting many years beyond that to try to pay off student debt that makes it too challenging to raise a family.

Finally, policies like this can force some young pregnant students to feel like they need to choose between continuing their studies or continuing their pregnancy. Knowing how expensive it is to raise children, and also how expensive a college education is, a student may feel pressured to seek an abortion when they otherwise would not prefer that option.

The student may also feel like they need to drop out of school so they can take care of a family. We should never seek to be pressuring people into making what they feel is not the best solution for their lives. We should instead be looking to support students and young parents in whatever decisions they make.

The United States Student Association is circulating a petition asking Congress to reconsider their support of these policy changes. If we want to support all students, including our young parents, we should be expanding, not restricting our access to affordable education.

Reproductive justice is really about making sure people are in control of their own lives, and have the power to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Making sure higher education is accessible to young people, whether or not they may be parents, is an important part of that power. Without an education, it is more challenging for any person to be able to rise out of the cycle of poverty, and by restricting access to education, we are perpetuating that cycle for another generation.



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