For those of you who have not been following the news, the cost of college education is too darn high. On average, undergraduates walk across the stage at the end of their senior year with a diploma and a bill for about $30,000. Some, especially lower-income students like myself, are one of more than 1 million youngsters who graduate with a whopping debt of $100,000.
This is problematic. The unemployment rate for those with bachelor’s degrees is half that of those who have only a high-school diploma. But is it fair to fellow millennials to pursue a higher course of knowledge and intellect if we chain them to monstrous amounts of debt? I think not. Are we inspiring millennials to establish successful careers and sound families if they are barred from acquiring a bachelor’s degree, the degree which earns most people an extra million dollars in their life time? Again, I think not.
America has changed. There was once a time when Bobby could graduate high school and marry Susie, have children, never go to college, and live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this is no longer possible. We have lost our manufacturing jobs, jobs that were once a bridge to allow anyone into the middle class regardless of education. To be competitive in the new America, you need that bachelor’s degree — and sometimes even a master’s degree — to build a future. This is part of the reason why, when it comes to college affordability, the situation for millennials is different than that of other generations.
Additionally, the United States’ status as the world’s superpower of higher education is quickly being threatened by increasingly educated work forces in countries like China, especially when it comes to mathematics and science. If the United States wants to regain its education edge, we need to ensure that we train as many scientists and engineers as possible, and that no one is prohibited from studying these areas because of the size of their wallet.
Luckily, there still remains a handful of bipartisan ideas to address these issues. For one, student loan rates, which currently range from 3.4 percent to 9.5 percent depending on the type of loan and the date that the loan was disbursed, can be reduced or even capped. Separately, Congress could expand existing federal loan relief programs to include student loan refinancing. After all, the practice has grown rapidly in the private sector. On the state level, governments could consider more creative pilot programs. For instance, Oregon has a system where part of your future income is used to pay public university costs, rather than traditional tuition bills. And, most simply, Congress could consider expanding Pell Grants, federal government non-loan aid for lower-income families. The current Pell Grant maximum is just above $5,000 per student per year, after all, despite most universities having costs of attendance anywhere from $30,000 to above $60,000.
The United States is home of the American dream. Should students of lower-income and working-class families be denied a post-secondary education because of the circumstances, economic opportunity or mistakes of their ancestors? Is education a privilege only to be afforded to our bourgeoisie? Of course not.
Kevin Young is a sophomore at Tulane University where he studies political Science and Middle Eastern studies and serves as president of his campus chapter of Common Sense Action, a bipartisan Millennial advocacy group on 39 campuses in 20 states.