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Making less wealthy pay for the higher education of the ‘future rich’
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

If someone running for office – whether it is president, Congress or the state Legislature – made forgiving bad investments of millionaires a top goal most of us would likely go ballistic.

So why does anyone besides those who would be off the hook think forgiving college debt is a national priority as opposed to doing something like actually overhauling higher education?

There are two numbers that keep popping up in the push to wipe out student debt simply for the sake of wiping out student debt and not in exchange for something of value to society like working in the Peace Corps for a set number of years. The numbers are $1.6 trillion in student debt and the fact on average a college graduate over their lifetime earns about $1 million more than someone with just a high school diploma.

That $1.6 trillion debt sounds crushing but who would it crush if it was simply forgiven? Would it be the college graduate that would be debt-free and in a position to make $1 million more over the course of a lifetime or the 98.5 million Americans who didn’t go to college therefore are likely to make $1 million less in their life than college graduates while being saddled with helping pay off the college debt of “millionaires.”

That’s right, millionaires. When the final tabulation is taken a college degree gives those who earned one the ability on average to earn $1 million more than those with only high school diplomas.

It is the rallying cry that is drummed into the heads of our youth and teens primarily by the higher education industry. Go to college and you will earn more money. Colleges and universities conduct research to underscore better pay as a marketing tool – or some might say propaganda – to reinforce that a college degree is an absolute financial necessity.

Yes, it can be rough starting out after college trying to rent a place, buy a car, and cover life’s expenses. But it is even tougher for those starting out right out of high school.

Look at it this way – if you rack up $60,000 in college debt that ends up costing you $200,000 by the time you pay of the loans, you still have an $800,000 lifetime earning advantage over the high school graduate.

The bottom line is you are better off, on average, with college debt than someone with only a high school diploma.

It gets worse. What about the 106 million Americans who did go to college and did so without taking out debt or have paid off their loans? Why should they be saddled with someone else’s college debt?

Forgiving college debt – instead of attaching strings such as working as a teacher for five years in an area where there is a shortage – punishes not only those who didn’t have the opportunity to go to college but those who also did who were frugal, made wise decisions such as forgoing the latest electronic toys, and made sacrifices by practicing the antiquated concept of delayed gratification.

A large percentage of student debt is held by people who never completed their degrees. Among those more than a few simply hopped aboard the college-bound train even before they were handed their high school diploma because that course of action has been drummed into them by society, or more specifically, the education system.

And when a student at the outset isn’t driven by passion or a dream the deal is sealed by hammering them with the hopelessly shallow “you can make more money with a college degree” argument.

There is no doubt that college educated people have value to society assuming it provides them with either specific skill sets or a repertoire of things such as sharpened reasoning and elevated problem-solving.

But if a large bulk of those who make it through the college sheepskin mill basically sleepwalked their way through college because they were neither passionate or driven and left with degrees in communication, how is that going to elevate the world?

Personally I see the value of college way beyond simply shaping biochemistry researchers, medical professionals, and a slew of worthy and necessary professions. There is a lot to be said about dedicating four years of your life not just to sharpening skills that will make you employable but to also expand your horizons. You certainly don’t need to go to college to do that but it definitely helps.

At the end of the day it should come down to three things:

• Personal choices – as in what you want to do with your life.

• Are you are ready and committed enough to go to college?

• Is it within your means or your level of comfort for sacrifices needed to make it happen?

College is hard work but so is digging ditches. If a top reason why you are going to college is to make more money, the debt you opted to incur is your burden.

You can’t mindlessly start a four-year commitment essentially aiming for the seven-figure lottery payoff and then start demanding that the money you invested to buy chances be refunded to you if you don’t land the super jackpot.

Instead of talking about student debt forgiveness perhaps those pandering for our votes might want to engage in some heavy political lifting instead of making “free money” their campaign slogan.

The first question to answer should be whether the federal government by guaranteeing student loans is fueling tuition inflation.

The ranks of administrators on college campuses have increased much faster than classroom teachers and professors. Salaries have increased faster inside the ivy-covered walls than outside of them. The framework of earning degree has changed little in well over a century. We may employ technology today but for the most part colleges are operating with old-fashioned manual cash registers once found in a dime store while the rest of the world is moving toward using smartphones to handle transactions.

It’s ironic that colleges and universities sell themselves as places where minds are molded to change and “disrupt” the world yet when it comes to them changing how they do businesses they work overtime to resist any drastic innovations.

The trend across the board today is to deliver more for less money with several noticeable exceptions — the government and higher education.

The government is willing to fork over money and to keep guaranteeing colleges have a steady flow of income.

When those two team-up with federally guaranteed student loans does anyone really expect the efficient delivery of an education with a tight lid on costs?

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.