This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Holding Us Back: How New State and Federal Guidelines are Needed to Revolutionize the Educational System and Mitigate Our Educational Debt Problem
The admissions scandal of 2019 opened many American’s eyes to a problem that is facing the United States due to an archaic education system, a significant contribution to our national debt. With almost $2 trillion in unsecured education debt, we see the cost of college accounting for nearly 10% of our national debt. This perception gap is a problem as many people see the debt they take on as an investment in the future, but later find out it is crippling their ability to buy a house, start a family or even in some cases secure a job. The worst part is that this problem is affecting people across the board, not just students who took “soft” majors. Graduates from good schools with degrees in Law, Medicine, and Business are seeing massive debt burdens with no real wage growth relative to the cost of living for the last 20 years.
Education is one of the prime examples of the government knocking down a house of cards – trying to “fix it.” The education system in the United States was active prior to the 1930s; however, the natural entry of women into the workforce adding to the return of GI’s from World War II created an influx of people who had the money to go to school (or send their kids to school) and a nation who needed somewhere to employee this new workforce. For years the privately funded model worked for colleges because colleges kept costs low and people saved to send their kids to college. When the baby boom happened, it became difficult for families to send their 2.5 children to college because they were only being taught how to save for one child.
Private companies stepped in to “help” with the system, giving people unsecured loans to cover their cost of college. Then the 1960s happened. Instead of college students going to school for Law, Medicine, Business or the STEM fields, new fields with limited job potential were created to “be hip” with the movement. Banks continued to write loans for these fields even though there were no jobs in the area. The Federal Education Loan Program was started to help families deal with the rising costs of college. Cartoon dollar signs appeared in the eyes of bankers and university presidents alike as more and more students could afford college because now they have basically unlimited funds supported by government loans.
If you agree, call the Department of Education at 202-401-2000.
Exploitation became more and more refined for thirty years until the Federal Government decided to “help” again with the federal direct loan program. In 1994, the government began offering “Direct Loans” to students, which were administrated by private/public partnerships. This system further allowed the use of government-backed loans to expand through the 1990s and into the 2010s, wherein 2010 President Obama orchestrated a total government takeover of primary loans for college students. It was mocked as Obama’s folly by the Wall Street Journal in an article titled “The Quietest Trillion: Congratulations. You’re about to own $100 Billion a Year in Student Loans.” Being one of the very few areas where former President Obama overachieved, the $1 trillion estimates for the cost of the program has led to nearly $2 trillion in current educational debt. At some point, we need to realize the problem is not where the money comes from, but where it is going.
“Better Person” Model versus Training for a Career
For too long now, we have seen a system of educational revisionism where the purpose of a college is not to train a person for a lucrative career, but to make them a “better person” as defined by popular culture and the media. Colleges have two purposes. First, the faculty should be contributing to the expansion of human knowledge through research. Second, they are there to train the next generation of business people, educators, doctors, lawyers and a dozen other careers. The problem came from the 1960s mentality that students “need” to learn things to make them a “more rounded” person. It is time to put an end to this experiment. There are three elements Congress and State Legislatures can do to solve this problem and in turn mitigate the debt problem for the country. They are:
- Require all colleges receiving state or federal funding allow the transfer of up to one half of the credit requirements for a degree or the amount of electives plus the number of general credit hours (whichever is greater) from any regionally accredited institution, which includes all regionally accredited junior colleges or community colleges. This will allow students to take the “junk” classes at a lower cost institution while still taking their major courses at an upper-division college.
- Reduce the number of general education classes needed to graduate. According to Get Unbound (a college reference site), up to 60 semester hours or 50% of a degree will be made up of general education classes in the 2019 school year. This ratio means that at some schools when you factor in electives, your doctors, lawyers, and business professionals are spending more time learning about the non-major topics than they are learning about topics in their major.
- Limit the scope of “forced” general education classes. Too many colleges in the United States “require” courses from failing departments. Departments such as fine arts, (underemployment rate of 58%); English (49%); Liberal Arts (57%); philosophy (49%) and general social science (49%) require students to take courses in their departments to “keep the departments viable” because of abysmally low employment rates. Some degrees, such as feminist studies, have a meager employment rate – but colleges are phasing them out. The Washington Post Reports in one study only 1,333 degrees were obtained in this field during the course of the study. Schools can strengthen employability by keeping general education to Math/s, History, Writing and Computer Science. Twenty-four credits (two classes in each) is more than enough for most majors.
To many people, these changes seem drastic; but in reality, they are simple “corrections” to clean up some of the mess the government created by getting involved in education. Please note, this recommendation does not say students should not be allowed to take the “junk” classes above – just that they should not be forced to take them. If a student wants to take a class or two in Fine Arts because it interests them, let them. This choice is what electives are for. Let’s move to a system where 50% of courses are in your major, 25% are electives, and 25% (or less) are general education classes. This ratio will provide college students with the ability to be gainfully employed when they graduate – because they will have the skills needed in their field.
The college debt crisis in this country is present because there are approximately $200 billion a year of unsecured money being “given” to college students with a signature alone. These students are being exploited by institutions that are using their government money to fund failing departments. It is time to put a stop to this. If you agree, call the Department of Education at 202-401-2000. Let them know you want the three elements above put into education policy. We can make a change, but we need to move the conversation away from “how much the loans are for” and focus on “what the loans are being spent on.”