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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
In the chaos that represents political discourse in this nation, the fundamental task of educating our young has regrettably been all but forgotten. While two wars proceed in the background, the nation’s attention is consumed with the stagnating economy, soaring unemployment and an unsustainable federal deficit. Meanwhile, one of the key ingredients for a long term solution to all of these problems is myopically ignored.
Dr. C. Alonzo Peters has an article over at AlterNet in which he addresses the urgent need to reform the financing of college education. While Obama talks about offering still more student loans – albeit at lower interest rates – Dr. Peters has a more daring proposal: free college education for all.
“Tough problems demand ‘outside the box,’ often radical solutions. That’s why we should give serious consideration to providing free college and trade school education to all.
Too costly you say? It’s estimated that the cost of tuition at public universities across the nation amounted to between $70 to $100 billion dollars. Sounds expensive until you realize providing free higher education for American citizens would cost slightly more than the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of the country…
To put the costs in another perspective, the price tag for free public college education would be less than $136 billion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan last year. While we’re busy bombing and rebuilding nations abroad, we’re neglecting our ‘intellectual infrastructure’ here at home.”
Dr. Peters’s arguments are quite compelling, and as a recent college graduate – and an avowed leftist – with some $13,000 in student loans, I tend to concur. I have long held that college education should be free, or at least heavily discounted. The current system which requires young adults to enter the workforce saddled with $20,000 (a relatively low figure) of debt is absurd.
In his 2007 book Crash Proof, Peter Schiff discusses how the outrageous increases in college tuition in the United States are a direct result of the ubiquity of student loans. Before students loans were so readily available, college tuition was far more reasonable. However, once the U.S. government started backing student loans, banks and lenders saw a lucrative opportunity to cash in on higher education. And as colleges and universities around the country realized that students were willing to pay extortionate amounts to study (“Hey, what’s another $1,000 in loans?”), tuition and fees steadily increased.
In light of this, Obama’s call for more student loans seems destined to contribute to the problem, rather than solve it. As Dr. Peters correctly observes, loans are not the solution here. If the United States wishes to remain competitive in the fields of math and science – and the related tech industries – providing a college education to its population is imperative.
Unfortunately, the figures cited by Dr. Peters may not be entirely accurate. Although the current annual costs for public universities might total approximately $100 billion, that figure is likely to increase significantly should tuition be provided at no cost. While the percentages vary according to age group, a sobering statistic is that only 27.2% of American adults hold a Bachelor’s degree or above. It should be expected – and hoped – that his figure would increase dramatically if cost was no longer a concern in completing a college education.
However, even if we double Dr. Peters’s figure, $200 billion is still quite reasonable in the light of what we would be obtaining. One cannot exactly put a price on the value of a college-educated workforce; as Dr. Peters noted, the prosperous era that began in the 1950s was largely a result of an increase in college graduates. Contrast this with the hundreds of billions of dollars that we devote to military expenditures each year, which return absolutely no tangible benefits.
It is impossible to meet the demands of global industry when 72.8% of the population holds a mere high school diploma. If the United States wishes to reclaim its position at the pinnacle of scientific and technological development, a profound rearrangement of priorities is in order.