Fox & Friends attacks millennials for planning to stay in jobs for only two years "because they just can't handle adult life"
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The Trump administration has failed to provide relief to tens of thousands of students who were left with a “near-worthless degree” and large amounts of debt after attending fraudulent for-profit colleges that have since closed. Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education has delayed implementation of new rules that would better protect student borrowers, and several recent newspaper stories have captured the human cost of the lingering debt.
On July 20, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will address conservative legislators and corporate lobbyists at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Media outlets have spotlighted DeVos’ long-time support of right-wing corporate education reform proposals advocated by ALEC, including, among other things, so-called “school-choice” programs that weaken traditional public schools.
ALEC is a corporate-funded “membership organization.” It connects right-wing state legislators across the country with model legislation that represents “the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism” and corresponds with corporate interests on a given policy issue. Almost one-quarter of all state legislators in the U.S. are part of the ALEC network, giving it unmatched influence in turning its model legislation into law. ALEC has promoted legislation on private school choice programs including voucher programs and scholarship tax credits. They have been a key part of the successful push to massively expand private school voucher policies across an increasing number of states over the past 10 years. Additionally, in line with its right-wing agenda, ALEC is also behind so-called “right to work” legislation that severely weakens unions -- including teachers unions.
In reporting on her upcoming address, Education Week described DeVos and ALEC as “natural allies” because DeVos promotes education policies that are beneficial to the large corporations that make up ALEC’s membership. Education Week noted that “the current co-chair of the group’s education committee” is Tom Bolvin, “who works for K12 Inc., the for-profit education company that has been under fire for poor performance of many of the online charter schools it operates.” DeVos has also delayed the implementation of two measures designed to deter for-profit colleges from defrauding and impoverishing students. This delay has prevented victimized students from getting debt relief, but may help buoy the financial stability of ALEC-affiliated for-profit college corporations. DeVos and ALEC are both in favor of expanding online for-profit charter schools, which have a dismal record of academic performance but are extremely profitable.
NPR also highlighted the extent to which DeVos’ and ALEC’s agendas overlap, quoting ALEC’s education policy head, Inez Feltscher, saying that DeVos "has been a wonderful champion for school choice both before and after becoming secretary of education, and advancing educational choice is one of the key issues we work on here at ALEC." University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor Julie Underwood summarized ALEC’s education policy agenda to NPR as "vouchers, vouchers, vouchers."
DeVos indeed views the expansion of vouchers as a key policy objective, and she and ALEC even point to the same states as role models. DeVos has praised Arizona's, Indiana’s, and Florida’s versions of voucher programs. Arizona just passed legislation enacting an unprecedented voucher program with universal eligibility and functionally no regulation. Florida has the highest total number of students enrolled in voucher programs of any state in the country (not counting individual tax credit programs), and Indiana has the largest traditional voucher program. Arizona, Florida, and Indiana are also the only three states to receive the highest grade that ALEC awarded on its annual state education policy report card. ALEC was a co-signatory on a recent letter praising Devos’ “vision for empowering parents to choose the best educational setting for their children.” The letter emphasized the “innovative programs that are in place in states like Arizona, Florida, and Ohio.”
DeVos is not the first member of the Trump administration to address ALEC’s annual meeting. Vice President Mike Pence addressed ALEC’s conference last summer, when he was governor of Indiana, in Indianapolis. As governor, Pence oversaw the rapid expansion of vouchers in Indiana. In his speech at the conference, he named this expansion of Indiana’s voucher program as one of his key accomplishments.
Will Right-Wing Media’s Campaign To Destroy The Consumer Watchdog Succeed Under Trump?
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board joined Republican senators in urging the president-elect to fire the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Richard Cordray, for “a menu of reasons” ranging from the agency’s crackdown on racial prejudice in auto loans to the cost of building renovations.
The CFPB was set up in the wake of the financial crisis as part of a new regulatory network constructed by the Dodd-Frank Act and has been a target of conservative media misinformation ever since, most of which has focused on the agency’s supposed overreach in protecting American consumers from predatory corporate behavior. The Journal’s editorial on January 9 calling on Donald Trump to fire Cordray “for cause” after Trump assumes the presidency followed calls for Cordray’s termination by Republican Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ben Sasse (R-NE). Among the reasons the Journal claimed as justification for Cordray’s termination was the CFPB’s allegedly poor handling of anti-discrimination regulations, its supposed failure to comply with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and reports of racial and gender discrimination from CFPB employees. From The Wall Street Journal:
Meantime, Mr. Trump should fire Mr. Cordray for cause, and the President-elect has a menu of reasons. Take a CFPB auto-loan campaign, which involved guessing the race of a borrower by his last name, and then suing banks that seemed to offer better deals to people the government assumed are white. A House Financial Services Committee report detailed how Mr. Cordray and senior officers knew their statistical method was “prone to significant error” but hid that reality from the public.
Mr. Cordray’s bureau routinely fails to show the reasoning behind its rules. In December the Cause of Action Institute filed a lawsuit against CFPB for refusing to produce more than 1,800 pages of documents on how the agency came up with a regulation on arbitration. Such disclosures are required by the Freedom of Information Act.
An investigation of CFPB employment practices by the Government Accountability Office found that a quarter of black, Asian and female respondents reported that they had been discriminated against. About 10% claimed to have personally observed retaliation against another employee. The bureau neglected to fulfill seven Inspector General recommendations in this area. Mr. Cordray also stood by while a CFPB office renovation notched more than $100 million in cost overruns.
The Journal’s supposed evidence that the CFPB is a “lawless and unprofessional agency [that] deserves a dose of political accountability” does not hold up to scrutiny.
The Journal has attacked the CFPB before for standing up to discrimination in auto lending after the agency drafted new guidance on interest rate markups and facilitated compensation for American consumers who had been the targets of discrimination. In November 2015, the Center for Responsible Lending concluded that the CFPB’s regulatory changes had the added benefit of saving all consumers money. The Journal's complaint that CFPB is not forthcoming enough with FOIA requests specifically cites a lawsuit from Cause of Action, a Koch-funded front group. The editorial’s allegation of rampant discrimination at the agency also ignored that it was the CFPB that initiated a self-assessment of its employee evaluations, as part of the “standards for equal employment opportunity” mandated by Dodd-Frank, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report alluded to by the Journal actually found that the agency “has worked to strengthen personnel management practices and enhance its diversity and inclusion efforts.” Even the Journal’s accusation of mismanagement and cost overruns in the agency’s office renovation falls flat: The Federal Reserve Inspector General found that “construction costs appear reasonable” and that the agency’s building “costs are below the amount previously budgeted.”
While the editorial attacked the CFPB, and Cordray, for problems that the agency took steps to fix years ago, it completely ignored the agency’s successes. According to a December 2, 2015, article in The New York Times, the CFPB has “seized upon its mission” to rein in abuses in financial services under Cordray, including cracking down on predatory for-profit colleges, arranging forgiveness of $480 million of student loans, and ordering the reimbursement of nearly $700 million to Citigroup customers swindled by illegal credit charges. Since its inception, the agency had “provided for $11 billion in relief for over 25 million customers,” according to the Times.
The demands for Cordray’s termination mark the culmination of a years-long conservative campaign to undermine the agency. As New York magazine pointed out in a December 29 article, Cordray will be “one of the few adversaries of Wall Street” left after Republicans assume control of the federal government, and for conservatives, “Cordray’s success at enacting new regulations is a bug, not a feature.”
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board joined a chorus of right-wing outlets in blasting the federal government’s income-based student loan repayment program, calling it a costly “con” meant to “buy millennial votes.” Yet right-wing media are ignoring the benefits of a program that could relieve millions of student borrowers of a portion of their remaining debt and that is still generating a profit.
Right-wing media lambasted the Department of Education and student borrowers after the Journal reported on November 30 the latest findings from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the government is on track to forgive $108 billion of $352 billion in student loans as part of federal income-driven repayment plans. The Journal’s editorial board blasted the government on December 1, calling the latest findings proof that the Department of Education’s loan program is a “con” designed to “buy millennial votes.” (The editorial column was the Journal’s second since November 1 lamenting the federal program, which has led to millions of students earning student loan forgiveness.) Earlier that day, Fox News host Jon Scott questioned if the program was a “bailout” for student borrowers. Fox Business host Stuart Varney also called the program “a bailout” on the November 30 edition of Varney & Co., while his guest Steve Costes added that the program is “a shame.”
Federal student loan borrowers have multiple repayment plan options, including income-based plans that require borrowers to pay back loans based on a percentage of their income for a certain number of years, after which the remainder is eligible to be forgiven. The GAO’s findings were for the hypothetical cost in loan principal forgiveness for the 5.3 million borrowers who signed up for income-based repayment plans for loans issued over a 22-year period, between 1995 to 2017. These borrowers will likely see an average of $21 forgiven for every $100 in loans received. Despite right-wing media complaining about the cost of borrower relief for those on income-based payment plans, the GAO found that the Department of Education still nets a profit on student loans.
The reason the government still makes a profit even after loan forgiveness is because many federal student loans have an interest rate at 6.8 percent -- a figure that is much higher than inflation or the 1 percent interest rate banks receive from the Federal Reserve. The 6.8 percent interest rate is so high that the GAO’s hypothetical borrower would pay almost double the original principal of their loan if the income-based plan had no cutoff date for forgiveness:
Student loan debt is a leading concern among young people, with The Atlantic finding nearly 30 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 “cited paying off student loans as their biggest financial challenge.” According to Fortune, “there is little doubt that many Millennials are struggling financially” after a survey by PwC found that 79 percent of the 42 percent of millennials that have student loans struggle to pay those loans. Evidence shows student debt can impact personal wealth, delay homeownership affect personal decisions to marry or start a family, and that it has “cripple[d] retail sales growth.” The financial stress of student loans has a “devastating toll” on borrowers’ mental health, according to Complex, which cited findings by researchers that “student loans were associated with poorer psychological functioning.”
While right-wing media push many myths about student debt, student concerns are valid; according to a November 21 op-ed published by Investopedia, Americans with student loan debt have “a challenging road ahead of them in the present and the future” due to workers being unable to save for retirement. The op-ed, which was authored by a financial adviser, even questioned whether people with student loans "will be able to retire” at all. The increasing debt burden can even hinder career advancement as graduates can be forced to take jobs that may have no chance of wage growth or career development so they can make debt payments on time.
Conservative media have labeled higher education as a "privilege" and suggested students ought to choose fictional cheaper colleges. Some outlets have even defended schools that take advantage of students and leave them with significant debt. But research shows college matters now more than ever, and the cost to attend is rising across the board. The student debt crisis is especially damaging for poor students and students of color, who more frequently attend cheaper open-access and community colleges and are still forced to borrow in higher numbers to pay for their education.
Blaming students for the student loan debt crisis ignores the facts and distracts from finding real solutions to America's skyrocketing student debt burden.
A recent Media Matters analysis found an overall lack of substantial discussions about college affordability issues on evening cable news programs. Notably, nearly a quarter of the total time spent discussing topics related to college affordability across all three major cable networks over the course of a year came from MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. Hardball’s discussions about topics such as rising college costs and student debt burdens illustrate what may have been the driving force for a vast majority of the limited conversations the study found across all networks -- a tie-in with the current presidential election.
In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed a year of evening cable news programming on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC and found that, together, all three networks devoted just under 2 hours and 22 minutes in 56 segments, in total, to discussing college affordability issues over the course of the year. Fox News’ and MSNBC’s evening news programs each spent a little under an hour discussing these topics (24 and 23 segments, respectively), and CNN devoted just under 35 minutes, or nine segments.
MSNBC’s Hardball single-handedly accounted for just over a quarter of the total number of qualifying segments in this study and nearly half an hour of total discussion time.
Why did Hardball account for such a large proportion of the total substantial discussion in Media Matters’ analysis? One finding suggests it was an election-year phenomenon: All 15 of the Hardball segments included in the study feature at least one guest discussing a specific presidential candidate’s record, stances, or policy proposals related to college affordability. Although host Chris Matthews’ questions or assertions about candidates’ stances often only grazed the surface, they show that cable news programs are capable of providing more in-depth coverage on college affordability when the interests of the host, guests, and the public converge.
In many of these segments, Matthews introduced the topic by asking guests -- often strategists or campaign surrogates -- to explain higher education policy differences between the two then-Democratic presidential hopefuls: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Discussions of these differences frequently focused on political strategy and voter appeal as much as on the details of the proposals.
Though many of these exchanges were brief or limited in scope, Matthews’ questions about Sanders’ and/or Clinton’s policy proposals demonstrate that evening cable news has the capacity to provide detailed, policy-focused discussions under the right circumstances: when guests are eager to talk about the issue, hosts are prepared to ask questions, and viewers have demonstrated a desire for more information.
The presidential race appears to have dictated these particular circumstances for the year studied. In fact, the majority of qualifying guests on each of the three cable networks specifically talked about at least one presidential candidate’s record or views on a college affordability issue -- or they were themselves a candidate at the time of their appearance.
When considering only those guests who spoke substantially about college affordability topics (many guests were participants in multitopic discussions, but did not speak specifically about college affordability), that number jumps even higher. Nearly 90 percent of guests who discussed college costs, student loans, or impacts of the national student debt burden also mentioned a specific presidential candidate’s record or stances on these issues.
With so many of the college affordability discussions on evening cable news closely tied to the presidential election, it’s unclear what will happen to those (already limited) conversations after November.
Image created by Sarah Wasko. Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
Evening cable news programs rarely discuss college affordability issues, and they even more rarely feature guests who present relevant expertise or recent personal experiences in these discussions. In a recent analysis of evening cable news programming, Media Matters found an overall apparent lack of student or borrower guests participating in these conversations, while the majority of guests were white, male, and 35 or older. Though Fox News programs featured the most student guests, the network’s discussions of college affordability were limited and they often allowed older, white hosts and guests to push outdated math about college costs and dismiss the experiences of students who are struggling to afford higher education.
In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed an entire year of evening cable news programming and found that Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC together spent just 2 hours and 22 minutes -- 56 total segments -- airing substantial discussion of topics related to college affordability. Of the 56 segments, almost half (24) were aired on Fox News. Of the 127 total guests participating in these segments across all three networks, eight were identified as current students -- all appearing in segments on Fox.
Considering the overall lack of interviews and panels discussing college affordability across all the networks, including four segments with eight student guests throughout a year of programming is not a significant accomplishment. All three networks ought to be including more guests who can share recent, personal experiences with paying for higher education in conversations about college costs or student debt. Two Fox News evening programs -- On The Record with Greta Van Susteren and Hannity -- took this initial step by featuring student guests, but the discussions were still largely dictated by the hosts.
And Fox’s comparatively better inclusion of student guests in college affordability discussions did not yield more substantive discussions.
On The Record featured a total of seven college students in discussions of student debt or college affordability, across three panel segments. The stated topic of all three segments was the millennial vote, yet each featured some exchanges about college affordability issues. In two of the segments, host Greta Van Susteren asked Democrat student guests if they were planning to vote based on their desire for “free” college. In the third segment, Van Susteren asked student guests, “Who do [millennials] blame for the student loan problem? ... Republicans or Democrats?” And later she asked which party the guests believed would help alleviate student loan debts. The guests -- all of whom explained that they were planning to vote for Republican candidates in the 2016 election -- all declined to “blame” a single party or to conclude that only one party could provide solutions. Together, as defined by the Media Matters analysis, substantial discussion of college affordability in these three segments totaled eight minutes.
In another segment, Fox News’ Hannity featured a 37-second exchange in which a young viewer asked in a video message what host Sean Hannity would do to “help students like me who are going to be in crippling debt after graduation.” Hannity advised students to forego attending a “big-name school” in favor of a (supposedly) more affordable option, then concluded that “of course, working hard never hurt anybody.”
Meanwhile, other Fox News evening programs -- although they included ostensible firsthand experiences -- were responsible for some of the most misleading and dismissive segments in our analysis. In discussions on The O’Reilly Factor and The Kelly File, Fox figures pushed claims that students could afford higher education in 2016 if they simply “work for it,” citing their own experiences attending college 24 to 45 years ago when it was still practical to afford tuition through part-time work.
On The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly and Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade discussed Fox colleague Neil Cavuto’s daytime interview with a student activist guest about the Million Student March. Kilmeade began the discussion by diminishing student concerns about affordable loan payments, then pivoted to listing the cost of tuition at several private, four-year colleges and suggesting that if students are accepted to those schools but cannot afford the sticker price, “Guess what? Maybe you can’t go. You have to go to a college that you can afford, and you work your way up.” Kelly cited her own college experience, arguing, “I took out loans. I paid them back. That’s how it works in this country.” Kilmeade agreed, saying, “It’s unbelievable.” Throughout the segment, Kelly repeatedly mocked student protesters, suggesting they were asking for “the one percenters to pay for your life,” and asking, “Why do they even have to buy a crib? It’s unfair.”
In 1992, when Kelly graduated from college, the average sticker price (tuition, fees, room, and board) for a full year of full-time attendance at a private research university like her alma mater was $17,572, which amounts to $30,166 in 2016 when adjusted for inflation. For Kilmeade, who graduated in 1986, it was $11,034, or $24,248 in 2016 inflation-adjusted dollars. Today, both schools cost more than twice what they did when Kelly and Kilmeade were students -- attending Kelly’s alma mater as a full-time student costs $63,344. For Kilmeade’s alma mater, the figure is $49,582. These numbers do not include transportation, books, or health insurance, among other additional costs.
On The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly blamed students for incurring student debt by choosing to attend “Harvard,” arguing that students ought to attend state universities or community colleges where tuition is more “reasonable.” Schools in the New York state system, according to O’Reilly, cost “a bit, but it’s not punitive.” Fox News analyst Kirsten Powers attempted to explain that rising costs can be prohibitive for students from low-income families and that his argument reinforces a “class system where only certain people can go to college.” O’Reilly responded, “The argument can be made that -- and millions of Americans have done it -- that you can get a good education, but you must work for it.” O’Reilly asked Powers, “Why do they think they’re owed all this by the government? What is that mentality? I don’t get that. I never took a penny from the government.” The discussion then devolved into O’Reilly claiming that child hunger was a “myth.”
In another segment from April, O’Reilly disparaged young people who supported free public college tuition -- at the time, a policy proposal from then-Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- explaining that he had “never taken anything from anybody in [his] life.” O’Reilly dismissed attempts from economist Austan Goolsbee to point out how college costs have risen significantly since O’Reilly was a student. O’Reilly focused instead on his mid-career graduate school attendance at Harvard University in the 1990s (years after he became a nationally recognized media figure) to attempt to rebut Goolsbee, rather than drawing the more appropriate and even less compelling analogy to his undergraduate college experience decades earlier.
O’Reilly graduated college in 1971, when the average sticker price for a full year of full-time attendance at a private liberal arts college like his alma mater was $2,599, or $15,456 in 2016 dollars when adjusted for inflation. Today the cost for the first year of full-time attendance at the same school -- which, again, does not include many estimated additional costs associated with attending college -- is $49,860.
Images created by Sarah Wasko.
Evening cable news programs rarely discuss college affordability issues, and when they do, they even more rarely feature guests who present relevant, recent personal experiences. In a recent analysis of evening cable news programming, Media Matters found an apparent lack of student or borrower guests participating in these cable news conversations relating to college affordability, while the majority of guests were white, male, and 35 or older. By limiting the demographic diversity of guests, media are shutting out the voices of those most affected by these issues.
In a recent study, Media Matters analyzed an entire year of evening cable news programming and found that Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC together spent just 2 hours and 22 minutes airing substantial discussion of topics related to college affordability. In those discussions, networks invited disproportionately white, male guests who were 35 or older. Among 127 total guests participating in these discussions, just 6 percent were identified as current students and only 2 percent discussed their own current or recent experiences borrowing money to pay for college. In short, the voices dominating evening cable news seem to not be those of the individuals most affected by today’s skyrocketing college costs or unmanageable student loan burdens. By inviting fewer women, young people, people of color, students, and borrowers, to participate in these segments, networks are limiting the substance of college affordability discussions and depriving viewers of an accurate picture of college costs and student debt.
Across all three networks, 58 percent of guests participating in discussions about college affordability were men. However, research shows that women are more likely to take out student loans than men, and that women need college degrees to access employment opportunities more than men do. The gender pay gap also makes getting out of debt all the more difficult for women, in particular for black and Hispanic women, even as women dedicate a higher percentage of their earnings toward paying off that debt.
Seventy-three percent of cable evening news guests discussing college affordability topics were white. Twenty percent of guests were black, 6 percent were Hispanic, and 4 percent were Asian-American. (Two percent of guests were coded for an undetermined race, and multiracial guests were coded for multiple races or ethnicities as applicable.)
Yet black and Hispanic students, borrowers, and families experience the financial strain of attending college more acutely at every step in the process -- from the initial decision about what type of higher education to pursue, to borrowing and making loan payments, to struggling for financial security decades after college attendance. Black and Hispanic students are more likely to attend schools with fewer resources for financial aid, while black and low-income students, in particular, are more likely to take out loans to pay for school and to have higher loan balances. Greater financial strain while attending college can also lead black and Hispanic students to drop out at higher rates, which in turn impacts their ability to find employment and pay down even small amounts of debt.
More than three-quarters of cable evening news guests discussing college affordability were 35 or older -- and 40 percent were 51 or older (of those guests whose ages were publicly available). Across all three networks, only 6 percent of guests discussing college affordability issues were identified as students, and only 2 percent -- three guests across all networks for the entire year studied -- discussed their own personal or recent experiences borrowing to pay for higher education.
Though it is possible that more guests are currently paying off student or parent education loans or perhaps are enrolled in college currently than were coded in Media Matters’ analysis, those guests didn’t talk about such experiences during their appearances. Overwhelmingly, the discussions of topics like rising college costs, borrowing to pay for school, and student loan burdens did not include guests sharing relevant, first-hand experiences paying for college in recent years.
Yet study after study highlights the “many crises of student loans,” detailing how today’s complex system of higher education and the debt-based system most use to pay for it are shutting out low-income students, veterans, and other groups of Americans who are often already marginalized in media coverage, and leaving those who attend college but do not earn degrees and students who attend for-profit colleges even further behind. Perhaps greater overall representation of students and borrowers -- or better, students or borrowers from specific groups that are feeling the financial squeeze of student debt most -- would give evening cable news viewers a more complete understanding of how college affordability policy proposals might work and who they might affect.
A July poll from Pew Research Center found that 66 percent of registered voters say education is a “very important” issue for their 2016 presidential vote, and 84 percent said the same about the economy. Rising college costs and the impacts of student debt burdens are significant issues that fall in the intersection of the two topics. Evidence shows student debt can impact personal wealth, delay homeownership, affect personal decisions to marry or start a family, and that it has “cripple[d] retail sales growth.”
Student debt’s impacts on the long-term financial well-being of borrowers are reverberating throughout the economy, and they are likely felt more acutely by those individuals with the most unmanageable debt burdens. But a viewer who relies on evening cable news programming to understand the causes and impacts of the student debt crisis, or to learn about possible solutions, might not know that at all.
Images created by Sarah Wasko.
Only 2 Percent Of Guests Discussing These Issues Identified As Current Or Recent Borrowers, 6 Percent Were Students
Media Matters studied one year of evening cable news programming on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN to examine the types of discussions these shows featured about issues related to college affordability. Our research found that all three networks devoted limited time to discussing these issues, and that the majority of guests participating in the discussions were white, male, and middle-aged or older. A very small proportion of segments discussing topics related to college affordability mentioned recent, personal experiences paying for higher education.
For the period beginning July 1, 2015, and ending June 30, 2016, Media Matters identified and analyzed all interview and guest panel segments on evening cable news programs that featured substantial discussion of college affordability issues, such as plans to reduce the cost of college attendance, reforms to make student loans more affordable, or the various individual or macroeconomic impacts of the current national student debt burden.
Media Matters found an overall lack of substantial discussions about issues related to college costs and student debt across all three cable news networks -- together, all three networks devoted 2 hours and 22 minutes to discussing college affordability in the year studied. Fox News’ and MSNBC’s evening news programs each spent a little under an hour discussing these topics, and CNN devoted just under 35 minutes. MSNBC’s Hardball, however, single-handedly accounted for just over a quarter of the total number of qualifying segments in this study.
Media Matters also found that networks featured predominantly white guests -- and significantly more male than female guests -- in interviews and panel discussions related to college affordability. More than three-quarters of guests invited to discuss these issues were at least 35 years old -- and 40 percent of them were 51 or older (of those guests whose ages were publicly available), though Fox News hosted substantially more millennial guests than the other networks did. Journalists formed the largest plurality of guests by profession, followed by political strategists (a category that also includes political consultants and campaign staffers). Only eight of the 127 total guests participating in these discussions in the year studied were identified as current students, and only three discussed their own current or recent experiences as student loan borrowers.
From July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, 56 total segments -- totaling 2 hours and 22 minutes -- across evening news programs on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC featured substantial discussion of issues related to college costs or student debt.
Fox News and MSNBC ran almost the same number of segments discussing college affordability issues -- 24 and 23, respectively. CNN ran just nine segments featuring substantial discussion of these topics within the year-long scope.
Of these 56 total segments, 44 were larger, multitopic panel discussions or interviews in which at least two speakers discussed college affordability issues for a portion of the segment. Only 12 segments in the year-long period began with a student debt or college cost-related topic as the stated topic of discussion for the entire segment.
Fox News had the most segments explicitly devoted to college affordability topics (seven), followed by MSNBC (three), and then CNN (two). Fox News’ and MSNBC’s evening news programs each spent nearly one collective hour on college affordability discussions, while CNN spent just over half an hour.
MSNBC’s Hardball aired the most segments including substantial discussion of student debt or college costs among the cable evening news programs, with 15 total qualifying segments -- more than a quarter of the total included in the study. Fox News’ On the Record and The O’Reilly Factor each included eight qualifying segments.
Across all three networks, 127 guests participated in segments featuring substantial discussion of college affordability issues in the course of the year studied.
The majority of the guests across all three networks were male (58 percent) -- and white (73 percent). Gender representation for guests was relatively similar across all three networks. Racial and ethnic group representation varied slightly more among the three networks: CNN had a significantly smaller proportion of white guests and a larger proportion of black guests, but Asian-Americans and Hispanics were not represented on the network in these conversations. Fox News had the highest proportion of Hispanic guests (at 10 percent), though these appearances were almost exclusively made by network co-hosts Geraldo Rivera and Juan Williams on programs other than their own.
Media Matters also coded for each guest’s generational age, based on available information about each individual. Of the nearly 70 percent of total guests whose age was publicly accessible, the most represented generational groups were Generation X (35-50 in 2015) and Baby Boomers (51-69 in 2015). Together, 70 percent of guests were ages 35 to 69. Millennials (18-34 in 2015) accounted for 24 percent of the guest appearances in discussions of college affordability issues. Almost all millennial guests appeared on Fox News, while all three networks hosted nearly the same number of guests in the older age categories. (Generational age data, however, should be approached with some caution, as the ages of 32 percent of the total guests in the study -- already a small data set -- were not publicly accessible.)
The most represented profession, by far, among evening cable news guests discussing college affordability was journalists. Thirty-six percent of the total guests across all three networks primarily worked as television, print, or radio journalists. Thirteen percent were current or former elected or administration officials, 10 percent were political strategists, 6 percent were academics, and 6 percent were students. The proportion of each profession represented by guests varied widely across the three networks, and a large percentage of overall guests were recorded as having “other or undetermined” professions because of a single, 28-person panel of “GOP voters” that included a brief discussion of student loans on Fox News’ The Kelly File.
Over the year studied, a total of eight current students (6 percent of guests) made guest appearances on the three networks in the evening news segments that featured substantial discussion of college costs or student debt. All eight were guests on Fox News -- seven of them participants in three different segments on On the Record discussing the political leanings of millennials. The other student guest spoke for six seconds, asking Hannity host Sean Hannity about his views on college affordability in a 37-second segment. All but one of these students were white, and gender was evenly represented.
Just three of the 127 total guests (2 percent) participating in substantial discussions about college affordability were identified in the segment as current or recent student loan borrowers. In a June segment on CNN Tonight, former Trump University customer Sheri Winkelmann described the personal financial burdens she and other former students incurred to pay for Trump University seminars (this example, however, is unique among the segments in that Trump University was a real estate seminar business and never accredited as a school). In another segment, from Fox News’ Hannity last August, then-presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) mentioned that he had owed more than $100,000 in student loan debt in response to a question from Hannity about addressing national debt and other economic issues. The third guest to mention his or her current or recent personal experience borrowing money to pay for college was the aforementioned unnamed Hannity viewer who asked a six-second question.
In the 56 qualifying segments, the most frequently mentioned topics were possible solutions, or the need for solutions, to address the rising cost of attendance at institutions of higher education, often in conjunction with then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) proposal for tuition-free public college or in discussions comparing Sanders’ and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s policy plans for making college more affordable. Thirty-seven percent of guests mentioned questions or statements related to this specific topic.
Twenty percent of guests discussed the macroeconomic impacts of rising college costs or the national student burden, referencing, for instance, data showing student debt surpassed all other types of household debt in the U.S. besides mortgages in 2012. Sixteen percent of guests discussed possible solutions, or the need for solutions, for existing student loan burdens. Just 11 percent of guests discussed individual examples of the real-world impact of student debt or rising college costs -- sharing their own experiences, those of other individuals, or hypothetical examples.
Of the 127 guests in the study, 71 guests -- 56 percent -- either made statements or responded to questions that specifically addressed a presidential candidate’s record, stances, or specific policy proposals related to college affordability or were themselves a candidate at the time of their appearance. Forty-one percent (52 guests) discussed Sanders’ record or policy stances on college affordability topics. About a quarter of the guests discussed Clinton’s record or policy stances on these issues, with many comparing the two then-candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Eighty-two guests -- 65 percent -- spoke about any of the five specific topics related to college affordability that Media Matters measured:
Notably, of the 82 guests who spoke about these topics, 71 -- 87 percent -- discussed college affordability issues in conjunction with the records or stances of one or more presidential candidates. Fifty-seven percent discussed college costs, 32 percent discussed the macroeconomic impacts of student debt or rising college costs, 24 percent discussed possible solutions for climbing student debt, and 17 percent discussed specific individual impacts of struggling to pay for college.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts for evening programming on cable news channels Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, for mentions of any variations of the keywords college; student; school; university or universities; educate, education, or educator; degree; and graduate or graduation within 50 words of any variation of one of the following keywords: cost; affordable or affordability; tuition; debt; loan; and borrow or borrower.
We included the following programs in the data: CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon; MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell; and Fox News Channel's Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O’Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, and Hannity. We did not include Fox News’ The Five in the study because of the show's substantially different format and because it rarely has guests.
For shows that air reruns, we included only the first airing in the data retrieval. For some dates, town hall events by presidential candidates or presidential primary debates pre-empted regular programming in whole or part. These events were not included as relevant segments, but discussions or interviews related to these events before or after their airing were included. Presidential town hall events presented as regular episodes of a program were also not included as relevant segments. Segments were also limited to interviews (live or pre-taped) and panel discussions. News packages, host monologues, and teasers for upcoming segments were not included.
For this study, Media Matters included only those discussion-based segments where the stated topic of discussion was college costs, student debt, or other issues related to college affordability, or where the segment contained "substantial discussion" about these topics. We defined “substantial discussion” as a portion of a segment in which at least two speakers raised questions or made statements directly addressing college affordability issues.
Qualifying segments were coded for timing. Media Matters reviewed and recorded time stamps for entire discussion-based segments when the stated topic of the segment was related to college affordability and for the portions of multitopic segments that featured substantial discussion of college affordability issues. Teasers, host monologues, news reports, and news packages introducing qualifying segments were not included in the final time count, as they do not constitute “discussion.” Commercial breaks were also not included in this count.
For the purposes of this study, Media Matters defined a “guest” as any individual not affiliated with the program who was introduced and shown on camera during a segment in which substantial discussion of college affordability occurred. Program hosts, guest hosts, and network correspondents were not counted as guests, except in instances where a network host or correspondent appeared on a program other than their own specifically to engage in discussion (as opposed to delivering straight reporting). Individuals who did not engage in discussion of college affordability issues but participated in a larger, multitopic discussion that touched on these topics (such as a large panel) were counted as relevant guests, as they had the opportunity to discuss college affordability topics. Guest appearances were counted only once per segment.
We coded all guests in a qualifying segment by name; gender; race and/or ethnicity; profession; generational age; whether they identified themselves as a current or recent student loan borrower; and what specific topics related to college affordability they discussed. Guests could be coded as belonging to more than one racial or ethnic group, or coded as “undetermined” if their racial/ethnic background was not publicly available through self-identifying statements, personal websites and social media, or media profiles. Similarly, guests’ ages were determined through a good faith search of publicly available information from personal online profiles and media profiles. We were able to determine 68 percent of guests’ ages through these means. We defined the age generations using Pew Research Center guidelines: The millennial generation included guests who were ages 18-34 in 2015, Generation X included guests ages 35-50 in 2015, Baby Boomers included guests ages 51-69 in 2015, and the Silent Generation included guests ages 70-87 in 2015.
We used two independent coders to review segments and determine whether a guest identified him- or herself or was introduced in the course of the segment as a current or recent student loan borrower (having paid off loans within the last five years). It is possible some guests are current or recent student loan borrowers but are not included in this count, as they were not identified as such in the segment, and guests’ personal financial information is not typically publicly accessible.
We also used two independent coders in reviewing all relevant segments to determine whether each guest spoke about the following topics related to college affordability:
Guests could be coded as discussing more than one of the above topics in a single segment.
Media Matters also reviewed segments for guest discussion of specific presidential candidates' records, stances, or policy proposals on issues related to college affordability. Guests were coded if they made any statement referring specifically to an individual candidate's record or policy proposals on any college affordability issue (e.g. plans to subsidizing college tuition, plans to reform student loans, past experiences with higher education costs), or if they directly responded to a question or assertion from another guest about a specific candidate. Guests could be coded for making statements about more than one candidate in a single segment. Guests who were also presidential candidates at the time of their appearances could be coded for making statements about their own records or stances on college affordability issues, as well as for making similar statements about other candidates. These guests were additionally coded as presidential candidates. A second coder was used for accuracy in making these determinations.
Rob Savillo helped shape the research design of this study, and Tyler Cherry and Bobby Lewis contributed to its implementation with segment review and coding. All graphics were made by Sarah Wasko.
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An editorial published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal insisted that student debt is “manageable for most students” and recycled previously debunked conservative talking points to fault student loan forgiveness programs and federal aid for America’s college debt crisis. The paper also echoed right-wing myths to argue that tuition “costs inevitably go up” in response to low-interest federal loans and dismiss progressive concerns about for-profit schools.
Research Shows Economic Difficulties Are Still A Major Concern For Recent Graduates, Especially Women And African-Americans
The Washington Post reported on the economic prospects of the Class of 2016, saying that while the economy has improved, wages are still down for recent graduates, and the mounting debt thrust onto students forces many to take jobs with poor advancement opportunities.
In a May 2 article for The Washington Post’s Grade Point education news blog, reporter Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reported that while hiring continues to improve for recent college graduates, job prospects are still poor, and the increasing debt burden faced by graduates forces them to take jobs -- if they can find one -- that may have no chance of wage growth or career development. The Post highlighted findings from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) showing that nearly seven years after the end of the Great Recession, recent graduates still face many employment hurdles, namely lower pay and higher amounts of student debt.
While the unemployment rate for recent graduates is “only a tenth of a percentage point” above pre-recession levels, the Post wrote, “nearly 13 percent of young college graduates are currently underemployed, compared to 9.6 percent nine years ago.” As wages are still low for recent graduates, student debt burdens continue to climb and the Post reported that it is likely “the average Class of 2016 graduate will leave school with five-figure debt.” The piece said student debt burdens “likely will force graduates to accept jobs without long-term prospects for career or wage growth.” These and other factors spurred EPI to conclude that new graduates likely will earn less in the next decade than those who graduated before the recession.
EPI also found that prospects for recent graduates are bleaker for women and African-Americans, a point Media Matters has also highlighted. According to the Post, the national average unemployment rate for college graduates is 5.6 percent, nearly double the 9.4 percent unemployment rate EPI found for black college graduates. Since 2000, the gender gap for recent graduates has widened; female graduates today make 6.8 percent less than their counterparts did in 2000 compared to male college graduates, who now earn 8 percent more than male graduates did 16 years ago.
From The Washington Post:
If the last few years are any indication, the average Class of 2016 graduate will leave school with five-figure debt. That albatross likely will force graduates to accept jobs without long-term prospects for career or wage growth, according to a new study from the Economic Policy Institute. Analysts at the think tank say that despite the rosy overall employment picture, graduates actually face a tougher labor market than they would have before the 2008 recession. Degree-holders, they say, still contend with elevated levels of unemployment and underemployment, and a large share are neither employed nor pursuing advanced degrees — in other words, they are idling.
“Although there have been small improvements, there is still a lot that’s problematic about this economy for young college grads,” said Teresa Kroeger, a research assistant at EPI who co-authored the study. “Wages are still performing poorly. And we see still disparities between genders and racial groups.”
Analysts at EPI say unemployment for young black college graduates hovers at 9.4 percent, higher than the peak unemployment rate for young white college grads during the recession. And gender wage inequality has grown, with male college grads earning 8 percent more this year than in 2000, while young women with degrees earned 6.8 percent less than in 2000.
Perhaps the most troubling prediction from the institute posits that newly minted grads as a whole likely will earn less and have more spells of unemployment during the next 10 to 15 years than if they had graduated before the downturn.
April 25 marked the fourth anniversary of outstanding student loan debt topping $1 trillion in the United States, yet media still aren’t always telling the full story on college affordability and student debt. If the public thinks the student debt crisis only affects white, upper middle class borrowers enrolled in impractical programs at four-year colleges and universities, the media aren't doing their jobs.
It’s time for media to recognize the realities of the nation’s student debt burden. Outlets should stop ignoring the voices of students and borrowers, and stop reinforcing unrealistic assumptions about how higher education can be paid for today. Here are some of the reporting tactics they ought to leave behind.
Media often focus their reporting on six-figure student debt balances from prestigious and expensive four-year colleges and universities. But focusing on the experience of this narrow segment of student borrowers ignores those who are most deeply affected by student loan debt: students who take loans to pursue higher education but are unable to complete their programs, and students borrowing to attend non-traditional or for-profit programs with fewer federal grant and loan options.
As the Center for American Progress’ (CAP) Ben Miller explained in June, “the link between debt and educational attainment is too frequently missing from national discussions on student loans.” Miller’s study found that a recent graduate with a higher debt burden was financially better off than a non-graduate who owed a smaller amount, because the graduate was more able to boost their income and pay off their balance, resulting in fewer defaults for graduates.
A comprehensive report from the Brookings Institution in September highlighted the outsized student debt burden of another non-traditional group of borrowers: those who attended for-profit schools. The report concluded that “most of the increase in default [on federal student loans] is associated with the rise in the number of borrowers at for-profit schools and, to a lesser extent, 2-year institutions and certain other non-selective institutions, whose students historically composed only a small share of borrowers.” The report also demonstrated that “These non-traditional borrowers were drawn from lower income families, attended institutions with relatively weak educational outcomes, and experienced poor labor market outcomes after leaving school.”
It’s clear that four-year college graduates are not the majority of borrowers in default or struggling to make payments, and it should be just as clear in media coverage of the issue.
Reporting on the nation's student debt crisis without acknowledging how the debt burden disproportionately affects women and people of color is irresponsible, and it leaves out important details about how student loan debt ripples across the economy.
Here are the facts: women are more likely to have outstanding student loan debt, and dedicate a higher percentage of their earnings toward paying off that debt. The gender pay gap also makes getting out of debt all the more difficult for women, in particular for black and Hispanic women. In February, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that “more women than men… are contributing more money to their student debt payments than a typical individual can reasonably afford,” and are still making a less significant dent in their outstanding loan balances. “The gap in student loan repayment is even larger for black and Hispanic women with college degrees,” the report noted.
Black and Hispanic borrowers generally have more debt than their peers, regardless of the type of degree they pursued or the type of institution they attend. In fact, black and Hispanic students are far more likely to enroll in cheaper two-year, open-access schools, but also often have access to fewer family resources than white students and therefore must rely on student loans in greater numbers. Black and Hispanic graduates are also afforded less financial security from having a college degree.
The nation's student debt burden feeds off of, and perpetuates, existing economic inequality. Media that ignore this phenomenon are ignoring the experiences of the majority of student loan borrowers, and are obscuring the true costs of the national student loan debt burden.
Right-wing media figures, in particular, frequently pair discussions of student debt and college affordability with outdated anecdotes to suggest borrowers struggling to pay off student loan debt could have simply worked harder or made smarter decisions to avoid incurring debt. Here’s the reality: Any media figure who suggests students or recent graduates could have avoided taking out student loans not only ignores that many students do not have the resources to find alternatives, but relies on completely outdated assumptions about how much college costs in the first place.
The fact is that college costs are rising across the board, for all types of higher education. Non-traditional programs often end up being more expensive for students, and some for-profit programs in particular, underserve students and leave them more likely to default on loans. Finding “a cheaper school” is not a real option, and making a living wage without a college degree is increasingly not an option either.
Economists agree that higher education credentials, and in particular a bachelor’s degree, continue to have outsized positive economic benefits and are an undoubtedly “sound investment.” So pundits citing cheaper, alternative higher education programs are, at best, blindly promoting the nonexistent and, at worst, knowingly perpetuating a two-tier system of higher education where low-income students ought not to pursue the types of degrees proven to be most beneficial.
And those anecdotes about how conservative media figures were able to pay for college with some elbow grease and a part-time job? Researchers have repeatedly found that’s just not possible anymore. An October study from Georgetown University found that while “over the last 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have been working while enrolled,” it’s just not enough to offset the costs of school or avoid loans. “A student working full-time at the federal minimum wage would earn $15,080 annually before taxes,” the report concluded. “That isn’t enough to pay tuition at most colleges, much less room and board and other expenses.”
Media coverage of student loan and college affordability policies in the 2016 presidential election is inaccurate if it attempts to frame policy solutions from both parties as equally comprehensive. Both Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have released comprehensive policy plans designed to bring down college costs for new students and to ease the burden of student loan debt for borrowers and recent graduates. Both plans have price tags and detail concrete actions on the issue. Regardless of where voters stand substantively, it is undeniable that both plans exist and are comprehensive.
On the other hand, none of the three remaining Republican presidential candidates have released policy proposals on higher education affordability or college debt -- in fact, front-runner Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have not even dedicated website space to the issue. Gov. John Kasich (OH) includes a paragraph on college costs in his larger education platform, but doesn't explain what policies he'd pursue on a national scale.
Recognizing that student debt is a major concern for young voters with vague public statements is not the same as offering concrete policy solutions that might help alleviate the problem. Reporting that frames policy proposals from all of the presidential candidates as equally comprehensive or equally viable in order to appear balanced is just misleading the public.
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