How Much is the Future Worth?

CBS News Sunday Morning ‘Smart Money’ covered the cost of getting a college education today. Tuition and fees have doubled over the past 10 years. Students (and their parents) are bearing the burden.

Sarah Lawrence College was identified as being the most expensive college in the country with an all-in cost exceeding $60,000 annually. The President, Karen Lawrence, said it ‘was worth every penny. 90% of all our classes are seminars with an average of 11 or 12 in those classes. You are paying for the attention of those faculty.

Really? How can one graduate with a BA or BS and potentially start an independent life with up to $240,000 in student loans. This is not an option for many. Some will be supported by their family.

But clearly there is an increasing dependency on student loans to get an education. CBS News Sunday told us that the total U.S. student loan bill of $1 trillion exceeds that for all U.S. credit cards. That is staggering. How can students, at the beginning of their adult life, owe more than all-of-America in credit card debt?

Apparently, both democrats and republicans are interested in keeping interest rates on student loans low so students can continue borrowing in subsequent years. This concept addresses the symptom, not the problem.

Eighty percent of students are educated in state universities. As universities face funding cuts and increasing costs (utilities, health care, etc), university administrators are trying to recoup needed monies directly from their customers, the young people trying to get an education to increase their future income potential. Student pursue this dream based on evidence that college graduates historically earned more (about $1 million) over their lifetime than their peers only a high school degree. But as any good scientist knows, extrapolations are only as good as the data upon which they are based.

The question that needs to be asked are: 1) Are there jobs for new graduates?, and 2) will they have the same advancement opportunities as their predecessors 10, 20, and 60 years ago? Because projected earning differentials assume the same (or better) earning opportunities.

College students are supposed to be optimistic. They should be full of ideas and ambition to change the world. This enthusiasm is needed. However, the availability of low interest student loans isn’t the issue facing this generation. While low interest loans are helpful, the REAL problem is the magnitude of the cost of an education which students must assume to get an education.

Debt is a burden which can stifle, even choke opportunity for a lifetime. We need to find a mechanism to reduce the financial burden to this generation, not just lower interest rates for student loans.

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About Michael McBurney

Personal Blog | Nutrition science | Generally curious about impact of social media and open access journals on science communication. Employed by DSM.
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