A Generation Hobbled

I found this article  an interesting confirmation of the times we live in. According to to ”A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College”, by Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren, 94% of students who earn a bachelors degree borrow to pay for higher education. For all borrowers, the average debt was $23k, with 10% owing more than $50K.

According to the article, Ohio Northern and many of Ohio’s more than 200 colleges, its graduates carry some of the highest debts in the country. Rajeev V. Date, Deputy Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau compares excessive to risky mortgages that helped bring the economy down.

College marketing targets the hopes, dreams and desires of students and families looking to education as a leg up, with strategies not terribly different from banks who bet against borrowers by securitizing mortgages. And despite that enrollments are up in state colleges, public subsidies have been cut, which threatens the idea of education being a foundation for low and middle class people.

Higher profile private schools, with a better capacity for financial aid are also leaving an untenable gap for potential students. NYU, my alma mater, was recently cited for rendering attendance at its Tisch School of the Arts a near impossible dream for middle class students.  One student hit the lotto of qualifying for admission, but found it impossible to attend. www.loansafe.org/class-of-2012-faces-harsh-reality-of-college-expenses

People who do actually graduate from NYU join the ranks of the most heavily indebted graduates in history. ($11k higher than the national average) One such graduate, Lindsey, found that she will be 54 years old before her debt is repaid.


So the question is, can a basic college education, even from a prestigious school like NYU,  catapult a student into a higher socioeconomic register?

The simple answer is, not so much right now and very likely not at all going forward, because of two reasons. First, most low and middle income academically promising students, can’t get over the initial hurdle of cost. According to Thomas B. Edsall’s, “Production of Privilege”, scholarships and grants based on need have dramatically declined relative to costs. According to Education Week, Pell grants have gone from covering 99% at a community college and 77% at a private college to 36% and 15% respectively. Further, according to a 2005 College Board study,  there has been a distinct shift by colleges to attract more affluent students who score high on standardized tests, rather than rewarding students with high scores, but who come from lower income groups. Second, as Lindsey the NYU Film graduate who incurred $156k in debt found, the current job market which has downsized and outsourced jobs and wages, requires 2 jobs to barely make ends meet.
Many college graduates who form a core constituency in the Occupy Wall Street movement now realize that their grasp on “The American Dream” has been significantly diminished.  Not only are there barriers to entry to higher education, but now, even being armed with a college degree represents a clear burden when facing diminished job prospects and lowered wages. Over time these circumstances will, despite studies that show college educated people are significantly better paid, diminish the hope for upward mobility through education in low and middle income demographics.

Not mentioned in this conversation, are the forgotten efforts to encourage underachieving students to excel. In effect, our higher education system and our funding priorities seems to reinforcing class stereotypes against those seeking upward mobility.

Clearly this is not the America I grew up in.

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