To Combat Student Debt, We Must Change How We Think About College

In 2019, the total student loan debt in the United States was over $1.5 trillion. Many college students are graduating, not to a promising career, but to a lifetime of debt payments.

Some politicians left-leaning, like Senator Bernie Sanders, think the answer to this epidemic of debt is to “forgive” student loan debt. But plans like this require millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

 We don’t need another government bail-out plan. What we need is a new way of thinking about college.

The truth is, not everyone needs a college education to have a successful career. Our culture has sold us the lie that one needs a degree in order to get ahead in life. We need to challenge this mindset before more of our young generation ends up in a lifelong debt.

 To begin to change our mindset on college education, we need to first understand how we got to where we are today.

In 1940, a little over five percent of men and less than four percent of women had completed a four-year college degree. But in 1944 something changed. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill into law, which gave veterans of the Second World War a guaranteed college education. This altered the landscape of American universities considerably. University campuses grew, approaching double their size in just the 1930’s.

 In the 1960’s, this landscape was altered even further. Congress passed the Higher Education Act of 1965, which added even more government funding to colleges and universities. But it wasn’t just a shift in funding that occurred under the Higher Education Act—it was a shift in ideology. President Lyndon Johnson saw the Act as an integral part of his “War on Poverty.” President Johnson connected the idea that a college education could be viewed as a way to pull oneself out of poverty and to set oneself on a successful career path.

For college students graduating in the 2010’s, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The average college graduate in 2018 owed a debt balance of $29,800.

 Starting a new career with almost $30,000 in loans doesn’t sounds like a recipe for pulling oneself out of poverty.

 We need to start viewing college as a path for some people—but not for all people. Those hoping to go into careers as lawyers, doctors, or educators may need to consider college. But those considering careers in vocational work, certain service industries, and even the arts, can save their money—and go onto promising, debt-free careers.

 

 
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