In the 1960s, I attended the University of North Texas, a public school blessed with good teachers and an educational culture focused on enabling us students to become socially useful citizens. And it was affordable — with close-to-free tuition and a part-time job, I could get a good education, gain experience in everything from work to civic activism, graduate in four years and obtain a debt-free start in life. We just assumed that’s what college was supposed to be. It still ought to be, but for most students today, it’s not even close.
Indeed, a $1.3 trillion mountain of debt is weighing down students at all types of U.S. colleges, endangering our entire economy. That’s more than people owe on credit cards or auto loans — and it’ll soon surpass the subprime mortgage debt that crashed the economy in 2008.
Private, for-profit, corporate colleges are the biggest creators of this looming danger. To say there are lots of horror stories about them is like saying there are lots of ouchies in a bramble patch. With brand names like University of Phoenix, ITT Tech, Corinthian, Kaplan and Strayer, they suck up some $32 billion a year in federal student loan money. They overcharge students so drastically that even those who graduate are stuck with nearly $40,000 in debt, and they deliver such poor education that graduates can’t get jobs with high-enough wages to repay the loans. David Halprin, author of Stealing America’s Future, calls this predatory educational industry “an immoral enterprise.”
America’s whole approach to everhigher-priced, higher education is wrong-headed. We know that college and advanced-skill degrees today are as essential to both individual and national well-being as high school diplomas used to be, so its time to redirect and reinvest in America’s future by making higher education free.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.