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As I mentioned in other posts, I am a middle of the road kind of guy. I don’t see devils on the right or devils on the left. I have seen remarks made that show a lack forethought from both sides but I tend to ignore people that make noise for the sake of making noise. Let’s look at some issues without the finger pointing and demonizing.
I want to look at a few issues and see if we can understand what the real problem is. I thought I would start with education. I managed to make it through my working life without a degree. I was in probably the last generation that could do that successfully. Here are the facts regarding what you can plan to earn at each education level. Sure some people find ways of advancing without formal education but those successes a few and far between. Check this table from census.gov and decide for yourself what you want your or your children’s standard of living to be.
You can see that a person with a bachelor’s degree is likely to earn almost double what a person with a high school diploma is likely to earn. Education is the great limiter to our dreams of financial independence.
Okay, now the we have decided that people need to be educated, let’s look at the chances of a person getting the education that allow them to earn a good living.
Here is a table from the National Center for Education Statistics showing the cost of higher education over the years.
The term “Constant 2009-10 dollars” refers to the cost in the 2009-10 economy. “Current dollars” refers to what was actually paid in the stated year. The constant dollars information is less dramatic and it shows the real increase in the cost of education. You can see that the cost of a four year-college has more than doubled in thirty years. Our college institutions are businesses with expenses and payroll. They have to live in our economy just like we do. We can’t expect their costs not to rise.
So what does this all mean? It sounds like classic supply and demand. The demand for a college education is soaring. People want to make a comfortable living and a college education is the key. People don’t want a college education as much as they need a college education. With a large number of people seeking a product and the product being in limited supply, the price can only rise. In the case of education it is even worse. Colleges want the best and brightest, that’s the purpose of the SATs. If you or your child’s grades in high school are good, but not great, a college may not be receptive even if you can pay the tuition.
Some people may say that this is all correct and as it should be. After all, if a student wants to get into college, they better be ready to hit the books and show they can make the cut. I don’t have a real argument with that line of thinking as long as the playing field for hitting the books is at least a bit level. Even if a child as the best intentions and wants to study hard, there are limitations in some environments. Having to walk to the library and wait for a public computer to come free to do your homework is a little tougher than sitting in your room with your laptop, printer, tablet, and smart phone, and that is just a minor limitation to people in poverty.
Some people also say that there needs to be differences between the rich and the poor or there won’t be any reason to aspire to be rich. I absolutely agree with that notion. Communism was an experiment into what happens if you try to put everyone at the same level. It was a disaster. People that are successful in life should be rewarded for the their success. This does inspire others to strive for the same level of success, but the game shouldn’t be rigged. If you want people to aspire, you must give them a chance of success and that is not what we’re doing.
The high cost of education is slamming the door to the good life on millions of Americans. The answer from the government and the private sector are student loans. They were to help with the cost of education but now they are a crushing burden on our young people. Student loan debt has exceeded credit card debt as a burden and it is a debt these people did not acquire by choice. We need a new plan that will allow our young people to be trained for valuable jobs without forcing them to carry a heavy financial burden into the start of their careers.
Some people may think that they are covered so why should they worry about the problem. I have a few words for those people, crime, the economy, supporting people in poverty, and civil unrest. People do not need hand outs, but they need a fair chance at their piece of the pie.
That’s the problem so what is the solution? I will ponder some ideas in my next post. My first thought is to ask why education has to cost so much? Believe me I will have more questions and very few answers. I’m hoping smarter people than me will have better ideas.