This morning the Times reports that student loan forgiveness programs are faltering. Designed to draw young people into crucial but often low-paying careers such as teaching and nursing, these state and nonprofit programs can no longer generate the cash required to underwrite the loans they agreed to help with, leaving altruistic young men and women high and dry.
The crisis in the health care system is one we’re all aware of, and one that affects virtually every American. But I’d add that we have a crisis in higher education with the potential to affect almost as many of us: if we can’t get teachers because smart young people realize the lifetime pay of a teacher isn’t worth racking up back-breaking debt, our school systems—already in trouble in many parts of this country—will wither and die. And more to the point for all young people, no matter what their career choices: we’re looking at a situation that requires all young men and women to start their adult lives under the burden of huge, potentially bankrupting debt, just to get a fairly ordinary college degree.
M’hijito’s roommate and his girlfriend are each about to graduate with master’s degrees in international business from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, one of the premier business programs in the country. A master’s degree from this institution will set you back a hundred grand. The young woman told M’hijito that when her loan payments kick in, she will owe $1,400 a month. There are programs that allow people to refinance student loans but there is no telling how much it could help M’hijito’s friend. When the school had a job fair, major corporations showed up to interview students…or not. Several told the young people that they came because they had agreed to do so, but none of them were hiring.
Fourteen hundred dollars a month! That’s more than the mortgage on the house M’hijito and I are copurchasing in a choice centrally located district. Significantly more!
Degrees in law and medicine are similarly pricey, as is any MBA from an internationally recognized private school. Less radiant graduate degrees are not cheap, either: M’hijito figures a master’s in public administration from the Great Desert University will set him back $40,000; I think that’s a conservative estimate.
The implications of this do not bode especially well for the future of this country. Something is wrong when young people have to start their careers so deep in hock it will take them twenty or thirty years to dig out, years during which even an excellent salary will leave their budgets pinched and their options narrowed.
Just as Americans need a decent health care system if we are to continue to think of ourselves as a developed country, America needs to provide higher education for its young people at a price they can afford. If we fail in that, over the long run we risk failing as a sovereignty. If we want our country to continue as a world leader, we need world-class education at affordable prices for all our talented young people, including those who have other ideas for their futures than careers in law, the business of medicine, and high finance.
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