The crippling cost of college

One of the themes we keep emphasizing has to do with the crippling costs of a college education today in America. Sure, college campuses are much nicer with all the new buildings and new technologies, but they are failing in their basic mission if students leave there with massive student debt that will hang over them for the rest of their lives.

More publications are doing good work discussing these problems. In Newsweek, Megan McArdle asks whether college is a lousy investment.

Why are we spending so much money on college?

And why are we so unhappy about it? We all seem to agree that a college education is wonderful, and yet strangely we worry when we see families investing so much in this supposedly essential good. Maybe it’s time to ask a question that seems almost sacrilegious: is all this investment in college education really worth it?

The answer, I fear, is that it’s not. For an increasing number of kids, the extra time and money spent pursuing a college diploma will leave them worse off than they were before they set foot on campus.

Given the costs, it’s hard to argue with her on this point. She discusses how college was critical for many families in building a better life for the next generation. But sitting on an English degree with $150,000 of debt seems like a pretty bad deal.

That said, we can’t overreact to the current economic conditions. When the economy improves, more of these kids will get jobs with their degrees.

Yet something has to give, and it was very encouraging to hear President Obama challenge colleges to slow down tuition inflation.

Also, the future of free college courses looms on the horizon. Universities would be wise to start figuring out how to lower costs, or they might really have a problem in the future.

Some regulations on for-profit-colleges struck down

It was a pretty technical decision, but a court has struck down some of the regulations put in place by the Obama administration to regulation the for-profit-college industry. This is problematic as many of these colleges are loading up students with a ton of debt, while their degrees don’t get them a job. We’ve also seen some pretty shady practices in recruiting students to these schools. Unfortunately, there are far too many for-profit college scams out there.

This unfortunately tarnishes those colleges that provide good training for students. Hopefully the media attention will make students more selective, but the problem is that these schools are playing with our money, as the taxpayers help fund these student loans. We need more accountability and the court just made it more difficult.

Fixing college tuition

We have some serious problems in the country surrounding college education. We have some of the best universities in the world, so the issue is not quality. The issue is price. The cost of college is soaring, and aggregate student debt will exceed $1 trillion!

President Obama is trying to address the student loan crisis with some sensible reforms, but the bigger long-term issue has to do with the cost of a college education.

Steven Goodman addresses the problem and proposes a solution.

Since loans now comprise 70% of financial aid packages, the growing tuition burden falls squarely on student-borrowers who may have saved for college but who still can’t meet the high cost of attendance. Two-thirds of American undergraduates are in debt. This year, student loan debt will grow to more than a trillion dollars, outpacing credit card debt for the first time. As hundreds of thousands of high school seniors prepare their college applications, and their parents compile documents required for financial aid, Congress needs to seriously consider legislation that will rein in future tuition increases.

There are many reasons for the dramatic rise in tuition, including demand for better student residences, cutting-edge laboratories, IT improvements, cuts in state subsidies and administrative growth. Regardless of which factors are most significant, the fact remains that there has simply not been enough external pressure to force universities to contain costs. Ironically, the accessibility of student loans, while admirable at first glance, has contributed to tuition growth. And while President Obama’s recent proposal to cap student loan repayments depending on income is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t address the bigger problem of runaway tuition in the first place.

This is where government needs to firmly step in. The federal government contributes billions of dollars to research and development on campus and allows universities to function as tax-exempt institutions. Self-policing of college costs has not worked; government needs to tie its support of higher education to college costs.

Read the entire article as it presents a sensible argument.

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