The prevailing wisdom these days is that in order to have a successful, lucrative career, you really need a college degree. Of course, in many cases that is true, and there are many wonderful benefits of going to college, even if you end up not really "using" your degree professionally. That certainly applies to me - if I hadn't gotten my specific degree, I would not have the profession that I do.
Then again, think of all the people who have found tremendous success without a college degree, and I don't just mean Bill Gates. Years ago, I knew a man who started in the mail room at his company and worked his way to executive vice president over a series of years, all without any college at all. Then there are those who are electricians or contractors or air conditioner repairmen, all of whom tend to draw a very good salary and who are often business owners and entrepreneurs. You have to admire that.
College has also changed drastically, and not always for the better. College should open you to new ideas and experiences. You should be able to go to college to read different voices and to encounter concepts and points of view that you might not share, which might even be offensive or challenging to you. College should be a place to push boundaries and make discoveries, and while you still can at many colleges, there are now more and more colleges where this simply is not an option. Whether it's speech codes or campus protests against conservative voices, or students calling homework racist, the world of college simply isn't the same as it was when I went in the 1980s.
And it's too bad, because people work so hard just to get into college, and to get scholarships. Most of us, AOC included, end up having to take out loans to pay for college because it's so expensive these days. It was bad enough back in the 80s, and it's far worse now.
Paying off those loans takes a long time, as we know, and with college so expensive now, paying them off takes even longer because you have to take out a lot more money. So it's understandable that the whole issue of college debt is a big deal. I've been there, and when I finally paid off my student loans a couple of years ago, I really felt like I had accomplished something.
According to THIS article from Business Insider, college tuition has more than doubled since 1985 for many reasons. One reason they point out is that because so many kids take out loans or get scholarships, schools jack up their fees and tuition, to take advantage of so much money coming in. State schools also raise their tuition because many are getting less public money - the school makes up the difference and more by hiking tuition. A UCLA student who is not a California resident can pay up to $65,000 total, whereas in the 1980s, a non-resident paid just under $6000. Interest rates on paying back student loans is anywhere from 3% to almost 10%, and
The reality students these face is a grim one, especially if they want to be a homeowner eventually or start a business or whatever else. For me, most of my loans actually came from grad school. Considering the declining quality of a college education, the polarized atmosphere on many campuses, and the huge price one must pay after it's all over, kids these days really have to think carefully about whether college is worth it. Enrollment is way up now, so it's not like college makes you stand out any more.
That being said, if a person does decide to go to college and take out a loan, they are also taking on a responsibility that must be seen through. Granted, when most of us enter into this agreement, we're eighteen years old and not necessarily in the best mindset to take on such a huge price. Plus, when you're just out of high school, you're so excited to go to college and take on that new experience, all money aside. And then reality hits right after graduation, and if you don't get a high-paying job right out of the gate, you're going to have a problem. And of course, most people in their early to mid twenties don't qualify for high-paying jobs.
Many of the 2020 Democratic candidates for President this year have embraced the idea either of free state college for all or forgiving all student debt for people making under a certain income. On the one hand, that sounds like a great idea, and it would certainly bring much relief to many people who are so heavily burdened by so much debt at such a young age. So I get it.
At the same time, I'm not so sure that's really a great idea, for a lot of reasons. Economically, this would be a total disaster - states would have to raise taxes across the board, as the majority of students attend state colleges. According to THIS article in USA Today, Bernie Sanders' 2017 program would have cost the federal government upwards of $47 billion, and the states would cover the rest. "Free" college, just like "free" health care, isn't really free. Someone has to pay for it, and that's going to be you and me.
Free college or forgiving student debt tells people that they don't have to take that responsibility, that someone else can take up that responsibility for you, despite having entered into a contract. This is where it becomes a character issue. Now, I'm not saying that students whose loans are forgiven have a low character. Rather, politicians who pander to young voters by promising loan forgiveness reinforce the idea that if you can't handle a responsibility, the government will take it on for you. It encourages dependency on government, which can become crippling over a lifetime.
There are some real solutions to the student debt crisis, and that starts with the universities themselves. The tuition at my own alma mater has gone up at least 100% since I graduated. In the 80s, I think the tuition was in the low $20K, whereas now, it's over $50K per year, though the student population has remained the same. What has changed is the facilities, which are much larger and which offer a lot more services to students. More research facilities have also sprung up, and all of that costs money.
According to THIS article, 27% of your money goes toward actual instruction, and 12% goes toward research. 11% go toward health care, and so on for the rest. According to the same article, "between 2000 and 2010, tuition on average increased $3,142 while spending per full-time student increased $3,917." All of these services cost a lot of money, as you can see, so it has to beg the question whether this is money well-spent. It's nice to have luxurious facilities in college - at my alma mater we had housekeeping services, which was nice, but not necessary. Colleges build fancy buildings and recreation centers because it's a great marketing tool, but it also means that the kids have to pay for that. Is that fair?
By the way, this is going on in other countries as well. THIS article from the Guardian discusses a similar situation in the UK, where these wonderful buildings are going up at different colleges, but the bill is then passed on to the kids. Not so wonderful when your tuition gets jacked up for a building you'll never use.
What it comes down to is that as long as colleges keep increasing their spending, just like the government, they're going to pass on the expense to the kids, and that will mean more loans and more debt overall. In fact, according to Susan Dynarski and Forbes, "Of those borrowing under $5,000 for college, 34% end up in default. Those who have $5,000 or less in student loans likely did not complete their degree and are struggling to find employment, while borrowers with graduate degrees and $100,000-plus in debt are desirable job candidates." Thus, when colleges continue to spend more and more money, they are burdening the most vulnerable members of their own population. And free college won't fix that.
I'd also like to see more education about everyday finances when kids are in high school so that when it's time for them to consider student loans and interest rates and where their money actually goes, they can, with their parents, make better decisions that will protect them from being burdened with so much debt at the start of their postgraduate lives. High school kids complain about this a lot, that they're great at Algebra and Calculus, but don't have a clue about taxes or interest or practical financial issues. Advocates of free college might be coming from a good place, but ultimately, the effects would be extraordinarily negative, even destructive.
I titled this article using the word "injustice," and I mean it. Free college, like most welfare programs, do nothing but damage the individual character by disincentivizing responsibility. Just as the War on Poverty created more poverty, despite spending $22 trillion supposedly to end poverty, free college will create dependence on government, along with increased levels of stress and anxiety. We hear a lot about the "safety net" for people who fall through the cracks - the chronically unemployed, the undereducated, the otherwise marginalized people in our society. And while those problems are real and serious, government dependency keeps them down rather than raises them up. Doing that to young people does them a terrible disservice - it is unjust.
Kids deserve a chance in life. Here they are, just starting out, and suddenly they're $50,ooo in debt by age 22 or 23. Maybe they'll pay all of that off and maybe they'll default, thus jeopardizing their credit and their ability to buy a house one day. Kids need knowledge and they need to know the reality of what they're getting into as they choose whether to take on student debt. Many kids choose community college for the first two years, which is a great idea. Yes, these are government-funded schools, but they're much cheaper and more cost-effective, and they give kids a chance to start their college career and maybe work to earn the money they'll need to finish college.
Kids need real choice, not government. That is justice because it affirms their character and it allows them to make smart decisions about their own future, rather than just taking a handout. After all, "free" college, just like "free" healthcare, isn't really free. Someone will end up paying for it, and in fact, once these kids do get jobs, they'll end up paying for all of this free college through their taxes and investments. Why not hold colleges accountable for their spending so that the students only have to pay once for college rather than a lifetime? Rather than spending millions on impressive buildings, colleges could lower their spending so that the kids are getting their money's worth.
Sounds pretty just to me.
Witty; cunning; crafty
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