Student loan debt recently broke $100 billion for the first time in history. It isn’t like we couldn’t see this coming.
- Virtually no wage increase for the bottom 95% over the last thirty years.
- Annual tuition increases above inflation rate.
- State payment cuts to universities.
- Decreased scholarship opportunities.
The end result is college costs have skyrocketed while our ability to pay it has trended down. Here is a graphical representation of the two trends:
Since we have been observing this trend for, say, 30 years or so, the simple fact that it is still occuring is actually pretty much an expression of braindeadness.
Here’s my anecdotal response:
When my grandfather left the battlefield after World War II, he was hired by Ford Motor Co. Not only did he have access to the G.I. Bill, but Ford paid for his Master’s program.
When my parents went to college, they were able to pay for it by working at jobs that included McDonald’s and a pizza shop.
When I went to college (lets just say it was a few years ago), I took a part-time jobs for some of it and worked every summer, but survived on academic and need-based scholarships, generous grandparents, and a bunch of loans. And when I went back to get my MDiv., it was again a cobbeling of scholarships, generosity, and debt (much of it on credit cards).
And today’s young people? Here were last year’s averages for total annual cost:
- $16,140 Public In-State
- $28,130 Public Out-of-State
- $36,993 Private
Plus several more thousand for books, eating out, and not going absolutely crazy.
According to the U.S. Census bureau, the real median household income for 2010 was:
Now, my degree was in English Lit, not statistics, economics, or accounting, but something tells me that the average American family can’t actually afford college. At all. If we believe debt is bad, and must be dealt with immediately, I see absolutely no way two parents with 2.3 children can send them to even a public in-state university. Zip. Since we pay 30-40% of our income on housing (between $15-20K), plus food, bills, cars, insurance, where is the money going to come from?
Loans. Big, fat loans.
And if you aren’t keeping track, the private school I attended just broke that $36K mark. When I started there 15 years ago, it was $16K. More than doubled in only 15 years.
This problem isn’t solved with one small-minded solution. There is no way to solve today’s student debt problem let alone tomorow’s student inaccessibility problem by doing one small step. The president’s proposal stops the bleeding. But it is going to take more. It is going to take examining those two trends and see how they are related.
- Wages are not rising with inflation.
- Tuition is rising at twice the rate of inflation.
To reconcile these two issues, we’ll need a few, pretty simple ideas with complex realities attached to them.
First, we need to raise wages and get more people employed immediately. Dithering over how is BS. It needs to have happened two years ago, so get off your high horse and start making some jobs, fools!
Second, we need to re-fund our scholarship programs so that our college-bound students can begin to afford it again for this academic year and beyond.
Third, put state and federal money back into the classroom. States have been cutting higher education for decades and this is the number one reason for the crazy rise in college costs. When our states don’t fund education, we don’t fund education. If our feelings about young people are reflected by our actions, we must really hate them.
Fourth, get colleges and universities to stop passing on almost all of their budget problems onto the students. There is nothing more obnoxious than watching a university complain about decreased funding as they buy up the property around the school and build new athletic buildings.
The only way to fix the problem is to both decrease the cost of college (nos. 3 & 4) and increase capacity to go to college (1 & 2). Do only one and little is accomplished. Do it tomorrow and it is too late. This has to happen now.
© 2011 Drew Downs. All rights reserved