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The Anxiety About The Costs Of Higher Education

high cost anxietyA reasonable question posed about the student loan debate is whether the anxiety about costs is really anxiety about jobs after graduation? That’s one of the issues spotted in a recent blog post by an unnamed Community College Dean, and it bears consideration.

When the economy was growing, the cost of education was no big deal. We knew that if we plunked down $10,000 for tuition, we’d come out the other side with a job that could pay the student loans handily.

Even when the economy went through a downturn (part of the natural cycle of capitalism), those who considered the matter would reasonably bet that things would brighten up in time for the student loans to come due.

As S. E. Hinton said, that was then – this is now. Time to adapt.

Here’s How It Went

Back in the old days we went through a boom-and-bust cycle. We’d do really well as a country, stumble and fall, then brush ourselves off and resume the race.

Unemployment would go up, then down. Industry would chug along, churning out goods for the American population to consume. It was the engine of capitalism, and that’s how it worked.

Over time, we stopped making things. We shipped our manufacturing overseas where it could be done cheaper.

Still, we employed people to sell that which we imported. Jobs began to center around providing services rather than goods. Brute force was replaced by the power of human intelligence.

With that came the rise of higher education. We needed to educate the people who would provide services in a way that was unlike the education provided to those who built things on factory lines.

A philosophy major could graduate and find a job. Likely not in the field of philosophy, but a job nonetheless. So, too, a political science or literature major.

The first wave of those with a college education had little competition from the older generation, those who had largely bypassed college due to lack of need.

The World Changed

Ever since the late 1990s, we’ve seen a creep of technology into our lives that renders us far more efficient than ever before.

Fewer bodies are needed to do the work required before the rise of the machines.

Those with jobs – the parents of recent graduates – are living longer, healthier lives and don’t slink into retirement as soon as did the generations before them. No longer are they felled by black lung disease and physical disabilities due to accidents on the line. Retirement comes later because the promise of Social Security has failed them.

Take both of these factors – greater efficiencies and fewer openings – and you’ve got the perfect storm for graduates.

Higher Education Needs To Adapt

Higher education needs to realize that students aren’t getting the skills they need to compete in the current economy. They aren’t being taught creativity, business-building, and how to build an expertise that will be independent of the work provided by an employer.

Colleges at the four-year and community college level need to bring the real world into their classrooms, to invest in their teaching staff in a way that enables them to teach practical skills that will help graduates earn a living.

It’s also time to trim the fat from the higher education system. Streamline the system, bringing learning online whenever possible to lower overhead.

Pay attention to technology in a way that makes it less expensive to gain an education. Pass along those savings to the students, lowering the need for student loans.

If higher education doesn’t change, the risk to our society in the long run is frightening.

Image credit:  401(K) 2013

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By |July 23rd, 2013|

About the Author:

I've been a consumer protection lawyer since 1995, working to help people end their bill problems. I'm a faculty member at the Student Loan Law Workshop, a nationally recognized speaker, and a long-time member of both the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.
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