Column: College students need opportunities, not debt

It’s graduation day — the day you’ve been waiting for since you arrived on campus freshman year as an 18-year-old kid with the belief that after four years of intense work, you would graduate with a degree that will actually land you a job. How mistaken you were. As you walk across the stage, what should be a joyful feeling becomes apprehension as you realize that you will have another two to four years of school and tuition fees to earn the next possible degree in order to land a decent job.

In 1974, the relative cost of a year at university — either public or private — was not an impossible feat: For public universities, it was equivalent to about one-eighth the price of a new car, and for private colleges, it was about half of the cost of a new car. While it certainly was an investment, it was attainable by nearly everyone. Much of this was due to the increasing value placed on achieving the academic status of earning a post-secondary degree.

Unfortunately, while the value of education has not gone down since then, access to this education has diminished greatly.

Currently, the average new car costs about $33,000, while the average total cost for a year of private college is upward of $47,000. A year of in-state public usually runs about $24,000.

Between the years 2005-2011, tuition and fees for public, four-year universities increased by 24 percent, and between 2011-2016, they increased by 13 percent. While one can definitely see that some increase may have been necessary given the economic crises that have occurred in the past decade or so, certainly this huge an increase cannot be attributed solely to necessity. The reality is, we are paying more for a degree that brings us less than it did in previous decades.

While students should be able to focus on earning money that they can save for future endeavors, such as buying a home, they are becoming further enveloped in debt that will keep them tied up for years after graduation. Currently, the U.S. student loan debt is equal to $1.3 trillion, far higher than credit card debts. In fact, the average amount of debt per borrower from the class of 2016 was about $37,172.

A college education is simply not possible for many young people who cannot afford to enter a system that will leave them scrambling for money for years to come.

Even worse is the fact that attaining a bachelor’s degree today holds far less significance when entering the work force than it did decades ago. What used to be a ticket to a great career, bachelor’s degrees today are simply a requirement rather than an advantage. People who once were able to hold promising jobs for decades have lost them because they lack further degrees and enriching out-of-classroom experiences.

Ironically, while we live in a society whose increasing demands for new, innovative ideas and inventions require more competent workers, the availability of these workers is decreasing dramatically. People with huge potential are unable to pay for college, so they never get the chance to show the world how they can contribute.

While we have some systems in place that strive to give less wealthy students the chance to attend university, these systems are clearly not enough. They may help the least wealthy, but what about the lower-middle class, who might live just above the poverty level but certainly do not have enough money to pay for college? We need to implement a system that accommodates this, otherwise our society will continue to miss out on young people who possess potential to advance our world and truly contribute.

Maybe then, on graduation day, that feeling of joy will not fall victim to apprehension, and students once again will enter college with hope that with hard work, they will be able to accomplish anything they set their minds to, without being suffocated by student debt.

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