The American Dream on the Installment Plan
Financing higher education is coming to a critical crossroads. The crossroads that so picturesquely stitch together the landscape in coal country saw many weary miners in a trudge to build the American Dream not for themselves, no, but for their sons and daughters.
Jason Ritchie, the grandson of one of those miners, is running for Congress in Washington State’s 8th district. He looks at America’s well-publicized student debt crisis and is alarmed at the shackles it places on the future. It was his grandfather who trudged the roads of coal country, and paid for it with black lung disease.
The cost of completing a baccalaureate degree has jumped 1,120% since 1978 – that’s only a little longer than one generation. Inflation can’t be blamed; put in perspective, medical costs have risen 601% and our grocery bill has gone up 224% in that same time.
So if they can’t afford it, should Americans give up college dreams? They can’t afford to do that either. College graduates are still earning, on average, 50% more than high school graduates, and that figure doubles over those without a high school diploma. The catch is that to get that higher paycheck, the large majority, about three-quarters, of students will have to become borrowers. But student debt has already caught up to today’s student borrowers, overwhelming them in a cacophonous debtor’s song of 1.2 trillion dollars. The average share per graduate for that debt is $26,000.
So what’s to be done? How many have opted out of higher education? Can we keep our business acumen sharp when a larger percentage of the work force comes into a slow market without the required or necessary skills?
Mr. Ritchie and his wife are still paying off student loans accrued twenty years ago. Recent graduates are saddled with considerably more debt. Mr. Ritchie sees dire consequences if the situation is not addressed. Families held in check by student debt constitute a burden on all sectors – education, economic growth, market competitiveness, entrepreneurship and simply the ability for communities to thrive.
Mr. Ritchie warns that the problem is serious and will not go away on its own. Without real, structural reform of student debt, and how higher education is funded, the end of the American Dream is within sight of a generation.
Student Debt: Paying Back the American Dream