Education Reform: College

By: Jim Cowles

The Venn’s Deep Dive this week is on education reform, specifically higher education.

It’s a timely topic. It’s May, and that means a new crop of college graduates are joining the workforce (at least their parents hope they are). Plus, we are fast approaching the first Democrat debates where education, together with health care, will be key topics.  Education is also one of the issues at the heart of the discussion regarding inequality: what causes it and how to address it.

That is one of the reasons why education has become a very political and emotional issue.  The American dream is about achieving a life in which we are ‘better off’ than our parents.  It’s about moving up the socio-economic ladder. It’s about the freedom from ‘want’ that is associated with that and the liberation from anxiety that economic uncertainty induces.  Is this idealistic? Perhaps. But the premise of the American Dream has driven our society for generations. And so when the validity of that aspiration is under threat, people look for causes and answers.  This is especially true when our country has grown richer as a whole, yet that American Dream seems unattainable for so many.

Untitled design (20).png

The competitive forces of globalization and the disruptive forces of technology have combined to erode the country’s manufacturing jobs.  Those jobs once promised middle class lives to high school graduates. Increasingly, people believe that the higher paying jobs needed to achieve middle class status require a college degree.

“the price for getting a degree has skyrocketed and This has plunged a growing number of students into vast sums of debt”

As a result, the demand for college has gone up, government funds and private lending for college has swelled, and therefore the price for getting a degree has skyrocketed. This has plunged a growing number of students into vast sums of debt. And while for some this investment will pay off with a high-salaried job, for others it won’t. They may not graduate and so be left with the debt but not the degree. Or they may major in areas that won’t get them jobs that can economically justify the debts they have incurred. For this group, achieving the American Dream of buying a house, having kids, and ‘moving’ up is becoming less of a reality.  

So what to do?  The podcasts we recommend in this week’s newsletter address some of these issues. Is it possible to challenge the ever escalating cost of a college education?  Can you avoid the college student debt trap by being economically savvy about what you study? When, if ever, should the US government step in to provide aid or eliminate debt?  And finally, the bigger philosophical question underlying this discussion: should a college education be considered a ‘right’ for every American? In the lead up to next month’s Democrat debates some of the candidates have made their position clear by putting forward policy proposals that include forgiving student debt and making tuition free. But as June 26th approaches, expect to see more fleshed out policy suggestions on this front and center topic. We hope this week’s deep dive will shed some light on this critical issue.