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Think big: Make public higher education accessible to everyone

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college graduation
Photo source: Flickr user KitAy
Some facts:
  • For the second year in a row, student loan debt exceeds credit card debt in the United States.
  • Students who borrow to pay for their education average $24,000 in debt after earning a bachelor's degree.
  • Only 57% of first-time, full-time, bachelor's degree students graduate in six years or less.
  • College tuitions are skyrocketing. We read about it in the news year to year, but the longer view is important; according to Tamara Draut's excellent book Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead,
    in 1976-77, the average cost of attending a private college was $12,837 annually, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

    Today, public college costs $12,283.

  • This is seriously limiting access:
    A recent report by the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance found that in 2004, only 40 percent of qualified students from low-income families enrolled in four-year institutions of higher education, compared with 54 percent in 1992. The report blames the bulk of this reduction on rising costs.

Assuming you can even afford to eat and pay your bills while also paying for college, is it worth being saddled with a lifetime of debt? Is a college education unattainable for a significant proportion of America's young adults?

If the United States were a country in which a high school education was sufficient to get a stable job and build a middle-class life, the answer to those questions might be "no" and "does it matter?"

Posted: 2011-06-19 18:00:02Author: