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Why We Ought to Fight to Extend the Benefits of Student IDs

Over the course of the next month, millions of Americans will be graduating from colleges and universities. The majority of graduates are sliding into high levels of underemployment, a record $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt (the average debt for graduating seniors at four-year colleges in 2014 was nearly $29,000), stagnant wages and often unpaid internships to gain a footing. Combined with the unsteady state of higher education in America, once seen as the nation’s great equalizer, recent college graduates are floundering.


Though the problem is complex, a simple step could help relieve the burden of low pay, debt service and high costs grads now face, allowing those graduates with outstanding debt to hold on to the student ID card they’ve already purchased with their tuition dollars. That step alone could change the game for many college graduates, especially during the first two years following graduation when life is suddenly painfully new.

Imagine a recent graduate making her way home from campus. Her first thought is to take Amtrak, where she receives a 15% student discount. On second thought, she decides to take the Greyhound bus where she receives a 20% discount on fares and a 40% discount on shipping her college gear home. The student books the ticket online on her new computer because Apple, Dell, Microsoft, HP, Lenovo, Sony and Adobe all offered her special pricing and incentives on computers and software. Once she finalizes her arrangements, she sends her family notice of her travel plans via text message on her new cellphone. She had a ton of options on mobile devices, as major phone companies like Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile & AT&T all offer 10-20% discounts on monthly plans for students at participating colleges and universities.

Once the student arrives at the bus station, she buys lunch for the journey home. Luckily, major food franchises like Subway offer a 10% discount on her total order. She was going to pick up a newspaper to read on the bus, but recalls that she’s just signed up for a digital subscription with her favorite newspaper, at the academic rate of $1 a week.

As the journey home comes to a close, a new one begins. The student starts sending out resumes and job applications. Luckily, FedEx offers 20-30% discount on documents and shipping to get her material to cities around the world. In preparation for job interviews, she visits her favorite retail and apparel stores, like J.Crew and Banana Republic where she receives a 15% discount on purchases.  

Soon she lands a job in Chicago. She’ll have to drive to work but is comforted by the fact that GM offers a college discount on new cars and she’ll make no qualifying payments for 90 days, enough time to get settled and bank her first paycheck. And car insurance is easy—a friend informed her that major insurance companies like State Farm & Allstate offer a 25% discount. Finally, as a way to celebrate, she decides to purchase a membership at the Art Institute of Chicago. She receives a discounted student rate and 10% off at the museum store. With the cash that is left over, she may even be able to put some money away into a savings account and make a donation to her college’s alumni fund.

It may sound precious, but these are the cost burdens of post-college life that can make or break the early years of a young professional's career. Even for disadvantaged/vulnerable youth, first-generation and poor students, the student ID can add some needed protection, access to resource, and give the graduate and his family access to public resources, like cultural institutions, that may otherwise remain out of reach. Just as City ID programs are growing rapidly across the country (New York, Oakland, Los Angeles and Washington DC) extended student IDs could facilitate graduates’ fuller participation in the economic life of the country.

But none of this is possible if student IDs expire at graduation. If you are one of the lucky few who graduated from an institution where IDs never expire, you’ve been operating under the radar and using this benefit for years. Why not extend that privilege to the other young people who are now cleaning out their dorms, moving away from the safety net of campus and presumably back in with their parents?

By recognizing the financial plight of graduating students, colleges and universities can support the extension of IDs. Student governments, which often vote and decide on critical issues on campus, can be the catalyst for sparking a national campaign and making the case to college and university presidents. A good place to start might be the newly formed Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success. A consortium of 90 schools of diverse public and private colleges and universities, the Coalition’s member institutions hold great weight across higher education. Though most of the member schools are highly selective and are currently focused on issues of affordable college tuition and need-based financial aid admission, the Coalition could clearly frame student ID extensions as yet another tool to address the barriers that prevent students from successfully earning a degree, and have it pay off over the long term.

Working with the Coalition would also allow greater bargaining power in negotiating with businesses and companies to support continuing the student ID benefits. The financial implications for businesses would likely be negligible because they’ve already been offering such benefits for decades to certain groups of people both young and old (think senior citizen discounts). Moreover, businesses and cultural institutions may be glad for the opportunity to broaden their base of young consumers—often the foundation for growing corporate profits. No doubt businesses will have to consider serious realities and financial implications, but for the most part, no research has come to light suggesting a serious threat to their bottom line. What is clear, however, is that businesses and cultural institutions participating in City ID programs have experienced a spike in membership and engagement. And we can mirror that success with student IDs.  

So let’s start a campaign asking colleges and universities to extend valid student IDs for a period of two years for recent graduates with outstanding student loan debt. It may be nearly as beneficial, in terms of sheer numbers impacted, as Obamacare’s extension of health coverage for young adults to the age of 26. And it’s an easy value-add innovation to aid the advancement and livelihood for young people and their families.

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