The Corner

Education

Colleges Shouldn’t Escape Blame for the Student-Debt Crisis

Sarah Lawerence College (Wikimedia)

The student-debt crisis was launched to the forefront of the American political world this week when Bernie Sanders announced his plan to eliminate nearly all of the $1.6 trillion in student loans currently owed by Americans. Sanders’ announcement caused quite the uproar, yet notably, colleges themselves escaped the lion’s share of the blame.

College tuition has exploded well beyond the rate of inflation: Since 1978, college tuition has increased more than four times — a staggering 1375 percent — the rate of inflation. It’s risen eight times faster than wages since the 1980s, according to Forbes.

“The reason people keep paying huge amounts for college is because it is assumed – and somewhat correctly, yet with lots of exceptions — that a college degree is needed to advance career-wise beyond mere economic subsistence,” Jay Schalin, director of policy analysis at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, told National Review. Statistically, college graduates still earn over 1.5 times more than those with just a high school diploma.

American society has been sold on the idea that obtaining a college degree is the key to success. “Universities are seen through rose-colored glasses,” Dr. Jenna A. Robinson, president of the Martin Center, told National Review. And the government’s backing of student loans has allowed more students to be financially viable to attend college. Children go to high school, get accepted to college, get the dream job after graduation and buy the house with the white picket fence; the process is almost formulaic. “Conventional wisdom has been pushing college-for-all for a very long time,” Robinson said. “The minute a kid hits first grade he or she is pushed toward college,” Schalin said.

“The education industry and their friends in government have been pushing ‘college for all’ for political and financial reasons,” Schalin added. While the number of people with undergraduate degrees has increased significantly since the 1990s, so too has the cost of those degrees. Add on the fact that an even higher percentage of those students end up in occupations they most likely could have obtained without a degree, and you wind up with a negative return on investment — that, had it occurred on Wall Street, would generate plenty of righteous condemnation.

There needs to be more investigation of the causes behind tuition inflation — including the ballooning in university administrations. Politicians have rarely given any attention what caused this dramatic increase. “The people in a position to call out universities for their complicity in the student loan ‘crisis’ have by-and-large benefited from their college educations and believe that it was very much worth the time and money it took to attend,” Robinson said. “They went to decent schools, they graduated on time, and they paid back their loans (if they had any) with ease.”

The institutions that were once centered on the pursuit of knowledge and higher learning may condemn the free-market economy, but they are pursuing their own profits — and they should not escape blame for the current situation.

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