Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Coming College Crash

A generation ago, when the U.S. had money for things other than wars, college education opened to the middle class in a way it never had before, with plentiful need-based financial aid, and need-blind admissions.

Today, aid comes in the form of big loans for exorbitant tuition, and college loan debt has surpassed credit card debt in the U.S.

Colleges have big marketing budgets to keep the middle class desperate for marquee education for their children, no matter the cost.

A bad job market doesn't hurt. In fact, it helps. With no jobs, colleges are flooded with enrollment. There's nowhere else to go.

For the big-name schools, it's a double blessing. With so many college degrees out there, people perceive extra value in the most prestigious diplomas. The big schools have big marketing budgets to keep that frenzy foaming.

The crash figures to be a long process. Schools can stay full a long time. For every smart middle class kid priced out of Cornell, for example, there's a rich dumb one to take the spot.

It will be more an erosion than a crash, as once-prestigious schools, always playpens for he rich in part, become exclusively so.

Unless we work against it. The Occupy movement is addressing the issues of rampant tuitions and crushing debt.

The Obama administration seems to be listening. The president recently spoke of granting federal aid to schools bsaed on their basis of each school's efforts to stay (or become) affordable.

We hope it is not too little, though for current students it's too late; and that the crash, if not forestalled, can at least be fixed, with effort and time.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

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