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America’s higher education system should work for everyone

Melvin B. Miller
America’s higher education  system should work for everyone
“If I can’t save enough for college, I’ll just go to work after high school.”

Young Americans have a major business decision to make well before the age of maturity. Even before graduation from high school they must decide whether to go to college. The usual reason for college is to enable youngsters to acquire the skills to enable them to be employed at a high-income professional level. The issue is complicated, however, because of the present high cost of college.

Students who are mature enough to understand the complexity of that issue at a young age will be aware that an assertive attitude toward high school will enable them to earn high grades and generate scholarship support to defray college costs. To accomplish this it is necessary for students to have the same attitude toward school that an ambitious adult might have toward his or her professional job.

A youngster who is not part of a highly educated family will have little guidance in making the right decisions in an extremely complicated process. According to data for 2018-19, tuition for public colleges averaged $10,230 per year, but private colleges were much more expensive at $35,830. Scholarships based upon high school achievements could bring expensive colleges within financial reach, but more frequently students rely on debt to meet expenses.

As a result, many college graduates are saddled with enormous debt upon graduation from college. The total debt is about $1.75 trillion nationally and it keeps on growing as debtors incur penalties for failing to meet payment deadlines. The consequences are especially grave for those who have been forced to drop out of college before they were able to acquire the skills that would generate the desired high-level employment. They still had debt service to pay, but hardly enough income to pay their debt as well as normal living expenses.

There are now an estimated 44 million Americans with college debt. This economic problem has generated a massive movement to cancel the debt. President Biden promised to do so early in his campaign, but the growing inflation has created complications. The government has reimbursed students who have been deceived by private educational institutions that have failed to perform as promised. Yet there are still millions of borrowers who are unable to meet the debt demands.

Another problem has emerged. Those who scraped by financially and have exercised the discipline to meet debt payments do not approve of the inequality if they are punished financially, while the less disciplined get a free ride. This objection is often phrased as hostility to using funds for the indigent to reimburse the college expenses of the affluent.

The compromise of the administration is to pay off $10,000 of each student’s debt. This proposal does not satisfy the opposition of vigorous protestors, who now assert that more substantial payments would relieve the inflation that now menaces the American economy. What might be beneficial, however, is a law that prevents the education lenders from unreasonably increasing the balance of the loan for students who are financially underwater.

The experience of inflated costs of a college education suggests the solution that a four-year college education for everyone might not be a practical idea. An affordable concept might be free high quality community colleges to prepare talented citizens for the university or technical institutes that lead to high-level employment. The quality of the faculty throughout would be well paid and of professional standard.

An approach similar to this proposal already functions in some European countries. Students in grammar and high schools are tested to determine whether they qualify for the high-level academic program in the seventh grade onward. In Germany, graduation from hochschule would be the American equivalent of 14th grade. Quality graduates then are admitted to the local university at government expense. Graduates who choose not to pursue higher education are available for employment or can enter community colleges for specific training.

It is time for Americans to reconsider the model of education that has developed over the years.