Let’s Make America Well-Educated Again

College Tuition. Did your heart just skip a beat? For those of us about to graduate high school or those of with kids about to graduate high school, as we spiral closer to the end of the school year, this is the one impending thing everyone is thinking and, rightfully so, stressing about: College and its enormous price tag. If you are a student, you may see college as the final step of schooling before entering the labor force. You may see it as this wonderful place where they can find themselves, pursue their dreams, and expand upon their interests.

However, if you’re a parent, you are more likely to see a starkly different picture. You may see college as the impending disaster and wreckage upon your family’s bank balance waiting to strike and the cause of the coming onslaught of the ever-increasing student debt upon your children. Both student and parents agree upon one fact without question: College prices have, and are continually going up. And when the parent’s concerns and the child’s ambitions are reconciled, with the numerous new avenues available for one to learn a profession in the 21st century, students and parents are now asking if college is even worth it. Before the 50s, college degrees were usually not needed to get a decent paying job because they were so rare.

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This all changed with the FDR’s 1944 Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, also known as the G.I. Bill. (Dominique) The bill paid for and encouraged millions to get a full college education. As the government promoted higher education over the next decades, Americans had unprecedented access to higher education and with that, increased competition for jobs in the workplace, with a priority given to college graduates. Those who took advantage of such aid programs were able to compete far better in the marketplace for jobs and encouraged others to seek a college education.

With the increasing demand for a college education in the workplace, tuition costs began to rise and this trend continues yet today. Conventional wisdom encourages many to go to college because of the many economic benefits of having a college degree in this day and age. Obvious benefits include the high-level job one is more likely to secure and the larger paycheck, approximately $20k more than someone with a high school diploma. (Abel and Dietz) Other studies paint an even starker picture, concluding that those with Bachelor’s degrees made 61% more money than those with only a high school diploma since the 1980s. (Daly and Bengali) One of the other benefits of a college degree is the increase in wages over time. Salaries of college grads usually increase much faster than those of high school graduates.

It is estimated that on average college graduates make far beyond $1 million more than high school graduates over their lifetime, even if they were doing essentially the same job. (Abel and Dietz) Another benefit is the increasing value of college graduates with age. This essentially means that the graduate will be valued the most and have the highest return-on-investment in older age. (Daly and Bengali) This is a fantastic benefit for college graduates because they can build up their bank accounts all the way till retirement, increasing in income every time, and not have to rely on anyone in their old age. However, there are benefits of not getting a college education as well.

These benefits are more simply avoiding the disadvantages of college rather than advantages of not going to college. The most obvious benefit is not paying that enormous fee for college. With public university costs ranging from $20,000 to $32,000 and private university costs approximately $42,000 annually, the obliteration of a regular family’s bank account does not seem all that distant anymore (Lorin) If families take the alternative, student debt, after college graduates often spend decades paying off over double the amounts they first borrowed due to compounded interest. One of my professors, a doctorate in mechanical engineering from prestigious UCLA and Columbia University, who is also the President of a local corporation, still hasn’t been able to pay off his student loans, even though he is in his late-40s. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that total student loans have crossed $1 trillion, making student debt the second largest consumer debt in the U.

S. (Lorin) As in the case of my professor, student debt is one of the longest-lasting types of debt and often majority of a graduate’s, and even a doctorate’s, prime career has to be spent in paying it off. Student debt stalls all other projects like owning a home or building a business for most of a person’s prime of life because of the time it takes to pay off post-tax loans like student loans. When one compares diploma-holders and college graduates, the enormous amount of money that college graduates make over diploma-holders and the white-collar jobs that graduates have, the benefits of a college education seem to trump the benefits of diploma-holders. Hell, even if a college graduate has a profession unrelated to his or her college degree, the fact that the graduate has a degree will often earn them a larger paycheck over others for the same job. (Daly and Bengali) But the disadvantages of having a college education are terrible too.

The fact that people have to either compete and most likely lose for the limited college scholarships available, capsize their family’s savings, or pay student debt for the rest of their life for education is insane. I think it’s fair to say that though the American system of education created the drive for higher college learning, it has since lost its place and unfortunately, has burdened the weight of its loss of innovative drive upon the American people. The weight of the defeat in educational drive has shown itself to be rather costly to the people, demanding enormous sums of post-tax money for a single college degree. After the initial drive for education by the government in the 20th century, the education system has remained largely unchanged and void of reform. The only two mainstream options for higher education available to the American people are either a straight college degree (but then face the debt/economic wreckage) or directly joining the workforce for more hands-on experience and learning (but then face the low salaries and low mobility in class and hierarchy). These were the forms of higher education used in 1950s.

These were the new, innovative, and better ways to be able to go to college back then. I think it’s about time we reformed the system, improved these methods or created new, innovative ones better equipped to serve us in the 21st century, rather than rely on these two mainstream, old methods. Other countries, especially European countries, have advanced the torch of higher education from the U.S. far ahead and left U.

S. trudging behind. Countries like Netherlands, Germany, Finland, and others have implemented subsidized or free college based on national government initiatives and dramatically bettered their educational standings as compared internationally. Their education system offers an interesting appeal to the public because of the lower costs but higher performance rate as well. Einstein once defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Similarly, expecting better education results with the same system in place is also insanity.

Let us change how our education system works, adapt it to the successful approaches of other nations, and actively reform when needed. Here’s an idea: let’s turn the next generations of Americans into well-educated citizens without stripping them of their money. It might just work.