Why College?

Why College?

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Diego Alvarez, Author

We are often told as high school students that college is the best investment you’ll ever make in your entire life. Have you ever thought to question this statement in the face of the 1.4 trillion dollar student debt crisis occurring in our country right now? The crisis that is left to follow students for the rest of their life.

California currently has the highest student debt of any state at $120 billion. Compared to other states, California has the highest percentage of college students. Therefore, you would think the university system would know how to allocate its financial resources, right?

With tuition costs more than doubling since the 90s, financial aid is to be expected. The federal government has always been reliable for obtaining Pell grants, which allow you to borrow directly from the government. However, it’s the state and institutions themselves that lack need-based financial aid. Universities are looking to attract the wealthiest students by enticing them with financial aid, usually mislabeled as “merit aid.” This is despite the fact that wealthier students attend more expensive universities. The lack of need-based financial aid in public institutions shouldn’t be a problem when they receive government subsidies to combat this issue. State grants aren’t any better when they’ve only increased investment in need-aid students by 1 percent between 1996 and 2008.

More and more college students today are receiving the riskiest kinds of loans to pay for tuition: unregulated private loans. These types of loans are offered by private-sector lenders such as banks or credit unions rather than the federal government. A multi-billion dollar industry has thrived from the failure of federal loans to fulfill the financial needs of students. The interest rates are steep, sometimes as much as 19%. According to a 2009 study, only 16% of students in 2004 took out private loans and in 2008, this rate nearly tripled to 43%. Borrowing used to be the exception, now it’s the rule.

In a poll of 138 students at Anaheim High School, 66% of students said they planned on going to a 4-year university right after graduating. Roughly 70% of these students will graduate with 15% debt to private loans. A total of 9 students said they were going into a trade, the military, or career.

The humanities is a subject many new college students look to as a safe haven when picking a college major, as the curriculum has been dumbed down due to “student success initiatives” implemented in many universities. Hundreds of thousands of students fall into the trap of choosing majors such as liberal arts, social sciences, and philosophy. These bachelor’s degrees are virtually useless in the workforce because the job market is saturated. Despite this, high schools encourage these majors as opposed to other alternatives, presumably because they are deemed more socially acceptable.

When looking at alternatives such as two-year community college, vocational school, or even the military, there are many benefits: lower costs, higher salaries, and job security just to name a few. Technical, vocational, and apprenticeship work especially is vastly underrated because of technological advances coming in the 21st century. Trade jobs such as plumbing and carpentry will not be automated for a long time when compared to basic cognitive tasks like journalism and administration. But it can’t be denied that there is a stigma towards trades as if people who do these jobs haven’t met some arbitrary societal standard.

It’s easy to see our society plummeting when it comes to various social indicators: starting a business, getting married, buying a house. The student debt crisis shows us not only a financial struggle but a cultural one as well. It’s not as easy as making college free for everyone or retraining unemployed college graduates. If anything, it shows us that the pursuit of higher education is often an obstacle to long-term success and happiness in a rapidly-changing economy.