Recently, I read an interesting article, “How Paying for College is Changing Middle Class Life,” published in The New York Times by Dr. C. Zaloom, a professor of anthropology at New York University.
He argued addressing the cost of higher education in the U.S. is not merely affecting students and families in budgetary terms, but it is a moral obligation.
He further argued parents faced three moral traps.
First, they are ambivalent whether to utilize their savings on their children’s needs when they are very young or use it later for their college educations.
The second moral trap occurs when parents are eager to find the “right” college. This is far more than finding an affordable college to study. Then, they must find ways to meet the cost, no matter what it takes.
The third moral trap is “social speculation,” meaning parents must bet on the present so their children will secure a place in the middle class of tomorrow.
According to consumer credit reports by The Federal Reserve, the cost of a college education has tripled over the last three decades. In 2006, student debt was under $5 billion.
Now, it is approaching an all-time high of over $1.5 trillion.
Young aspiring students are trapped in debt for the rest of their lives without finding ways to get rid of it. If the student loan is delinquent, the bank can garnish social security and unemployment benefits.
Moreover, student loan is hampering the lives of young students, driving them into poverty, and affecting families’ well-being and financial securities. Hence the question arises: “Can authorities provide any economic justifications behind this exorbitant cost of higher education in the U.S.?”
Many argue there is a surge in demand for college education. Most of the universities are underfunded, and it becomes difficult for their administrations to hire new faculty, create new infrastructure, and find funding for research and development.
I contest this line of argument by providing some examples from other countries across the globe.
Let us look at our neighbor, Mexico, where higher education is virtually free. There are many problems like low salaries for faculty, poor infrastructure, and insufficient industry-academia linkages, but the educational quality is still respectable.
For instance, in Mexico City, mayor Claudia Sheinbaum established a university which is not only free but also open admission, according to TopUniversities.com.
Where lies the hope? Students and the wider population at the colleges and universities are the hope.
As George Orwell writes in his famous novel, “1984,” “the hope lies in the proles.” In the 1940s and 1950s, the highest growth period in U.S. history, education was virtually free.
The G.I. bill was rewarding, which contributed enormously to economic growth. More significantly, the California Public Education system was a jewel in the 1960s.
What was unique during this era was that students’ movements had been quite a significant force in bringing social change to the U.S.
Today, when the country has arguably developed a much stronger economy compared to the 1960s, why has the policy of free or affordable education been revoked?
It is up to the students to decide whether to sit obediently and apathetically in the face of their plight or struggle to bring about the much-needed change required for their rights.