The public discourse on higher education seems to have lost its grip on reality. Daily news reports calling for a student loan bailout demand our sympathy for this highly educated group, and the proposed federal policies that are being floated around today mostly ignore their obvious economic and social advantages.
While the proposal to implement widespread cancellation of student debt is the most obvious example of this misplaced sympathy, there are plenty of others. A recent news article seemed to beg for the readers’ sympathy for a group of students in Massachusetts who were unable to receive their degrees or access transcripts because of overdue balances from unpaid tuition, room and board, and fees.
Higher education pricing can be opaque and frustrating, but if you were buying a house, you couldn’t get away with only ponying up 90% of the down payment. A car dealership would never let you drive off the lot without paying all dealership fees.
If you’ve managed to get yourself all the way to the cusp of college graduation, this notion isn’t beyond your grasp.
Students are discovering that you have to pay your bill before you can get your degree. Sure, there are issues with surprise billing and transparency of the financial aid process that should garner some indignation, but it is hard to conjure sympathy for the financial woes of a group of young people on the cusp on gaining access to earnings and employment opportunities that will put them among the most privileged in the world. Only a third (36%) of U.S. workers have the luxury of a bachelor’s degree, and in the global population the share is even smaller.
Our system of higher education has been designed to allow universal access to opportunity (through nearly limitless subsidized borrowing). It is not designed to deliver degrees on a silver platter, and students are not guaranteed a payoff. They need to do their part to make it work.