Student Debt and the Real Debate

Why is a proposal for free tuition a terrible thing or for that matter, as eluded to, a ding against Senator Bernie Sanders and current contender in the U.S. Presidential race who elevated the topic back into the limelight?

First, student debt load at the individual level has increased enormously as the graphics show. It is worth noting college debt is also part of the living wage debate. Americans are in the “damned if they do and damned if they don’t” quagmire.

While an education is not a guarantee, it does provide a greater likelihood of receiving higher economic returns and an enhanced ability to pay for the necessities of life. Republican counter-claim is that people in service sector jobs do not deserve wages necessary to pay for the costs of living. We simply cannot have it both ways.

The “decision” to convert our economy to service industries by off shoring manufacturing – which was associated with higher wages and the back bone of the U.S. Middle Class (post WW-II) was unilaterally made by Boards of Directors. The decisions were not primarily based on which “tax bracket” corporate profit was included. Off shoring was a response to clear animosity toward labor and environmental protection laws in THIS country! We have been on a downward spiral to “Third World” status ever since.

One of my family member’s comments is a case in point. He eluded that his certain skills he offers to his employer provide a higher wage and he is worth even more (maybe not from his employer’s point of view but certainly from his). So, the argument goes, people should not expect to flip burgers forever. The assumption is then, we expect people to get a higher education, post – high school. Even politicians tell us that getting an education is necessary (and maybe, just maybe is the path to higher wages). However, “don’t dare question how much the educational institutions” want to charge in order to get those skills.

Employers express an interest in hiring people who have skills, too. Even when the educational level is not particularly demanding for a certain employer, that employer has some base line assurances about an employee or candidate. Through the process of acquiring a higher education, an individual will be an all-round better employee. Everyone can see the benefits, therefore we simply need to change the debate.

The predominate argument today (in parallel used against wage increases also) was established by the Republican anti-tax rhetoric: “why should I pay for someone else’s education.” The new argument is “Invest in America” by investing in our fellow Americans. It was not too long ago that Germany with its free tuition program already in place offered the same opportunity to attend its institutions for free to American students. If we do not have the political or social will to respond then it would be fair to say, America better brace for some serious “brain drain.”

Any proposal for free college tuition must also address the cost side. Simply put, anything that is clearly a necessity should not be priced like it is a luxury. The wealth disparity between the wealthiest and the poorest is a global problem. We can’t expect people to pay “whatever the cost” and then complain when people can’t simply afford to.

What kind of country have we become? We seem to worship the rich. In many cases, they acquired wealth through inheritance or by whatever means necessary and unless money or opportunities grow from trees, there is a limited amount of both.


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