Post-secondary education necessary for all

Whether or not President Obama’s recent education-themed speeches are in direct response to Matt Taibbi’s must-read Rolling Stone magazine article on the college loan crisis, it is great news that the White House is now taking the crisis more seriously. The credit bubble in college loans has ballooned into a systemic threat to the nation’s economy. Additionally, as Taibbi documents, economic and political trends are now forcing an entire generation into a truly no-win situation: Either don’t get a post-secondary education and harm your job prospects, or get a post-secondary education and condemn yourself to a lifetime of debt.

The economic trend fueling this perfect storm is about job credentials. Peruse employment data and you’ll see that the New York Times was right when it declared that “the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.” Though the Times notes that the weak economy means the job outlook for college grads “is rather bleak,” it is even more bleak if you don’t have a post-secondary degree.

So, yes, some form of higher education is now increasingly as necessary as a high school diploma. Yet, in our financing models, America still isn’t treating it as such. Just consider the critical difference between how high school and college education programs are funded.

The former is funded by broad-based taxes and few would ever suggest changing it to an individual tuition system. Why? Because we’ve come to view access to high school as a right. This view is based not just on notions of morality but also on an economic calculation. Basically, we know we need a workforce with as many high school graduates as possible, and we’ve decided that forcing young people to go into crushing debt to get a high school degree would deter many from getting the degree.

Yet, even though we know that higher education is also increasingly an economic necessity, we do not have the same funding model or outlook for college. Instead, we still predicate access to higher education on a student’s wealth and/or their willingness to go into crushing debt.

This brings us to the political trend that is contributing to this perfect storm. Even though policymakers obviously know higher education is increasingly an economic necessity, financially speaking, they are still treating it as a luxury by predicating it on the user fee/tuition model.

No doubt, shifting our policies to treat post-secondary education as equally necessary as high school — and therefore worthy of similar fiscal treatment — requires a paradigm shift in thinking.

It requires us to see higher education as not just 4-year university programs, but also 2-year community college programs and vocational and technical education.

It also requires us to address the problems raised by Taibbi in his look at why college is so expensive.

But perhaps most important of all, it requires us to reject the assumption that it is impossible for the wealthiest country in the world to provide public higher education that doesn’t force students into debt. We — thankfully — don’t apply that assumption to high school education, and we should stop applying it to higher education.

Of course, universal free post-secondary education will not, unto itself, solve America’s economic problems. But that doesn’t mean access to higher education has nothing to do with a nation’s economic success. As the data prove, education is a factor.

America already knows and has built consensus around that truth when it comes to high school. Now it’s time to do the same for post-secondary education.

David Sirota is a syndicated columnist based in Denver. His email address is ds@davidsirota.com

More in Opinion

Editorial: Senate Republicans make bigger mess of tax bill

Senate Republicans are using repeal of an Obamacare mandate to win votes for their tax reform bill.

Editorial cartoons for Friday, Nov. 17

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Gerson: When lies become routine, corruption follows

We are witnessing what happens when conservatives become untethered from morality and religion.

Milbank: Truth is now out — ‘Bernie Bernstein’ broke all scandals

From Watergate to Roy Moore, Bernie robocalled random numbers, offering payouts for false claims.

Ignatius: Saudi prince tries to limit damage from brash moves

The crown prince, known as MBS, is fighting corruption, but taking big chances to combat it.

Harrop: Dems shouldn’t fret over another Hillary investigation

Launching a new witch hunt against Clinton is a sure sign that the heat’s been turned up on Trump.

Taxpayers are not on the hook for state’s suits against Trump

I was surprised to read the Nov. 2 letter to the editor… Continue reading

Media cited in voter fraud letter are on the extreme right

In response to the Nov. 13 letter to the editor, “Evidence of… Continue reading

Editorial cartoons for Thursday, Nov. 16

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Most Read