Today, The New York Times published a fluff piece about how high school students must consider prospective debt as the main factor for choosing a college. The article also touched on the reality that many parents push their children toward the most expensive and elite colleges regardless of the tuition or the scholarships, if any. Within all of the mush about how The Next Generation Will Endure, the article breezed over an interesting study about the relationship between students and elite colleges. Unsurprisingly, the study found that children in the 1970s who attended elite colleges fared better in life (financially) than similarly “smart” students today.
As with most mainstream media, the article seemed to miss the overall problem. Sure, students will be locked into their “class” based on the unaffordability of the top colleges, where the tuition functions as a purposeful barrier to social mobility. Yet, the cost of college, especially the top schools, bears little resemblance to the benefit of the degree, as an undergraduate degree even from an elite school opens few doors for the unconnected. But even if cost were not the issue, the degree still holds little value because few jobs exist, and almost half of young people have a degree from somewhere. Sure, a person with a Harvard English B.A. may fare a little better than a person with a CUNY English B.A., but it is still a race to the cubicle job and the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle…for the lucky ones.
Hopefully, articles like this one portends a paradigm shift in how society thinks about higher education and student loans. However, when something like a basic gun background check bill, popular with 90% of the population, cannot pass the Senate, I have little hope that the messaging debate and political process about student loans can be won in our lifetimes.