The increasing cost of college, particularly private college, has been in the news recently as two events occurred nearly simultaneously: U.S. student debt reached $1 trillion, and Congress failed to meet its July 1 deadline for setting student loan interest rates, causing rates to double (it appears that a bipartisan deal to reduce rates has now been reached).
This is yet more evidence that itâs time for us as a country to seriously rethink parts of the one-size-fits-all American Dream. Thereâs no reason that everybody should own a house, for instance, depending on his or her particular situation. And thereâs no reason everybody should get a college degree.
Iâve heard all the arguments about the value of college for everyone: a liberal arts education better prepares you to be an adult, living away from home introduces students to the real world, and college graduates, on average, make more money. But the arguments are more chimera than fact.
Certainly some people are best suited for a college degree. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you have to go to college, somewhere. But the really important thing is that you get the training you need for your job, not that you get a liberal arts education.
As often as itâs repeated, Iâm just not sure that getting a college education would make anyone a more well-rounded person. In my experience, people who didnât attend college are as well-adjusted to society as people who have that fancy diploma. As the proud owner of a bachelor of arts degree in English and thousands of dollars of student debt, I can confidently say that studying the sexual tensions in Moby Dick did not make me a better person or a better journalist.
Certainly living away from home can teach valuable life lessons. But working and living in an apartment is far more âreal worldâ than attending college and living in the artificial dorm environment. Again, thereâs nothing college is offering here that the real world canât offer.
Finally, thereâs the money. College graduates do earn more on average than non-college graduates, but that number is skewed by the minimum wage earners who lack the ability, ambition, or opportunity to learn a trade. If, on the other hand, you plan to be an electrician, plumber or dental hygienist - or a stenographer, surveyor, hair stylist, nurse, or secretary - you need some schooling, but it almost certainly doesnât make economic sense to pursue a college degree. And many of the jobs that are often thought of as requiring a college degree (including mine, as a journalist) probably shouldnât: if you know how to do the skills, schooling shouldnât affect your employment.
Also, the increased wage argument ignores the reality of debt. According to the Project on Student Debt, two-thirds of college students graduate with debt. Their average debt: $27,500 - not exactly the way you would recommend a 21-year-old starting out in life. Even if college graduates make a little more money, and even if the âfull college experienceâ is worth something to a personâs well-being, is it worth $27,500 in debt?
The advantages of going to a private college are even more minimal. Public schools offer just as good an education for a much cheaper cost than their private counterparts.
Certainly, government has to do something to help alleviate the mountain of unpayable debt weâre piling on our young. And yet, I hesitate to have tax dollars fund student aid - especially for students who donât come from poor families, and especially for private colleges â and prop up this ridiculous system that increases tuition well beyond inflation each year.
Perhaps less government aid would mean less students going to college. And perhaps that wouldnât be such a bad thing after all.
Iâm not saying no one should go to college - itâs certainly the right move for many, many people - but itâs time we retired the one-size-fits-all American Dream. Thereâs no shame in not going to college if you have a responsible career.