I am an in-state student at what is considered to be an affordable college, and yet, I will spend many, many years paying off the debt. I can’t help but wonder, wouldn’t it also be more efficient to shift the cost off of college students?
The cost of higher education has exploded in the last generation. As a demonstration, NPR crunched the numbers about rising cost of higher education and found that where a student in the 1980s could pay for college working a minimum-wage, roughly-full time job during the summer, their children, who are now in college, would have to work the same conditions for just over 153 hours a week. There are 168 hours in a week.
That ridiculous cost is not achievable by everyone. A 2009 article from the Washington Post shows that about 70 percent of dropouts are for financial reasons.
Reporting from USA Today finds business administration, psychology, nursing, biology, education and criminal justice are six of the most popular majors studied at the undergraduate level. Even some oft-maligned majors, such as philosophy, prepare students like Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel and Carly Fiorina to become important and wealthy individuals. Yes, education is an investment for an individual, but it’s also an investment in society and in the future.
I understand the desire for fiscal prudence, but a program to provide free public tuition is not as expensive as some might think. Data from the Department of Education found that in 2012, students spent about $63 billion on tuition to public institutions through loans, grants, etc.
Obviously, that’s a lot of money, but it’s actually less than the federal government spent the following year. To put things in perspective, Time magazine reports that development of the F-35 jet has cost $1.45 trillion — enough to cancel out all student debt in America with billions to spare. We are giving all that money to Lockheed-Martin for a plane that still can’t fly rather than educating the populace, to see how raw of a deal that is.
College is expensive for the individual who has yet to get the education or skills for a well-paying job, but split among a society that cost becomes very manageable. Given the recent $1.5 trillion tax cut mostly benefiting the wealthiest part of society, I’d say with some shifting of priorities, we can still afford free public tuition now.
At the end of the day, education is a fundamentally American value. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone needs to seek a higher education and plenty of people will be perfectly successful with a high school diploma. I say good for them; however, in an increasingly competitive, globalized economy, we need to acknowledge that there are a lot of careers which require higher education.
No one should be forced into higher education, but barring young people from education or else shackling them to extreme debt is not only morally wrong, it is a massive missed opportunity. Ultimately, I will look to a letter from Thomas Jefferson reading, “It is highly interesting to our country, and it is the duty of its functionaries, to provide that every citizen in it should receive an education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of his life.”