For decades youth have been preached the need for a college education. While I agree pursuing a quality education is a benefit not only to students, but for all society, I question the need to push our students into attending college when it may not be for them.
Considering the cost of a college education, it’s no wonder recent college graduates are drowning in debt and lack the financial footing to save money to start their lives. Lower starting wages earned by students emerging from college, coupled with their income-to-debt ratio, often dissuades banks from giving them mortgages or other loans, compounding the disadvantage.
The collective student loan debt in the United States stands at $1.56 trillion, according to Student Loan Hero. Sixty-nine percent of 2018 graduates have student loan debt averaging $29,800. That’s about the 20% down payment needed to purchase a home. That’s significant considering the Federal Reserve estimates every $1,000 in student loan debt delays home ownership by approximately 2.5 months.
Higher education has become a financial racket. For more than two decades, an increasing number of occupations require a bachelor’s degree regardless of major or applicability. Why? Because years of higher education propaganda has convinced the public that college degrees ensure entry to the professional workforce. We’ve catapulted higher education institutions into the role of “credentialing concierges,” dictating access and price. And, because government allows students to borrow an almost unlimited amount of money, colleges don’t hesitate to hike tuition to take full advantage of rising student loan ceilings.
United States basic education is focused on driving students to higher education, regardless of aptitude or aspiration. In Pennsylvania, college enrollment is the foundation of how school district’s success is evaluated – 50% of the state Department of Education’s school district assessment rubric includes an academic performance score based upon the SAT and ACT scores of a school district’s students. The underlying assumption is higher education is the only and necessary path to success. This flawed academic policy has fostered a machine that has enriched colleges and universities at a rate outpacing inflation by 114%!
Despite a Federal Reserve study that found tuition increases when student loan interest is subsidized, state and federal governments continue subsidize loan interest. Years of this type of disconnected vision and unsound policy, combined with these unaffordable incentives, have delivered us a debt-saddled generation often possessing no employable skills. We can’t continue to foster this academic culture, as it’s exploiting our youth to the demise of our economy and our country.
One step the House has taken was passing legislation to provide students with information on post-graduation career development opportunities and the variety of paths available. One under-utilized path is career and technical education (CTE). CTE equips students with specific skills, and often a trade certificate, that can be used to gain access to the workforce or built upon for higher accreditation. CTE offers huge advantages for students, including access to employers willing to train and often pay for education while gaining experience absent of massive student debt.
For far too long, skills and trades have been under-valued in society. Current employee deficits in these fields present an opportunity like no other for our youth and it would be a disservice not to expose them to these prospective careers. Technology is constantly evolving, and our youth must be taught how to be part of that evolution.
I’m not saying college isn’t valuable, I’m saying it’s not the only path and I’m challenging those in academia to re-evaluate how we educate and prepare students to take full advantage of labor market opportunities. This must include teaching students about all available career opportunities as well as critical thinking skills to select a post-graduation education path that provides the best value and opportunity for their career objectives. If government is going to continue to invest exorbitant amounts of money into higher education, the receiving institutions must assume some level of risk. Their programming must align with existing job markets and must be streamlined to better serve the needs of the student – the consumer – so they’re not forced to pay for classes and additional years of enrollment. If we continue on the course of sky-rocketing college costs, yielding little to no employable skills, we’ll snuff out the middle class of America and create a serious class divide in a country built on unmatched ingenuity by a drive to succeed.
Representative Dawn Keefer
92nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross