Stop treating college as a business

For many students, college is the way for us to be able to obtain a secure financial future. Society tells us that if we want a future for ourselves and family, college is the way to go.

Of course the matter of paying for college occurs, however many advisors tell students to apply for FAFSA or apply for a nicely packaged payment plan and everything will be okay. What they don’t tell us is this: according to a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student loans are now the second largest debt in American households, losing out only to mortgages. What happened?

According to a chart by Mother Jones, between 1980 to 2010, the average cost of a four-year college tuition started at $8,700 and rose to $21,600 in 2010. To top it off, the more students attend colleges, the more loans are taken out for their education.

According to American Student Assistance, nearly 20 million Americans attend college each year. Of that 20 million, roughly 12 million (or 60 percent) take out student loans annually.

And now student debt has an outstanding balance of $1 trillion. Plus, there are about 37 million Americans with outstanding student loan debts today. And those numbers are only rising, as the Mother Jones chart shows that student debt has nearly quadrupled over the past 10 years.

And while college degrees do reap benefits in the future, (an American with a bachelor’s degree is likely to make 50 percent more than their counterpart with only a high school diploma) with such a bad loan crisis, many can’t help but wonder if college is even worth it. Why pay so much for the hopes of securing your future when at the end of the journey begins an upward struggle to pay off a large sum of student debt?

So what exactly is the government trying to do against this tide of debt? Well, President Obama is launching a new initiative this fall to help struggling Americans pay off their student loans. His plan is to enroll Americans into the Pay As You Earn program. It is a income-driven repayment plan that caps at 10 percent of the borrower’s income and provides 20 years of forgiveness. Only students who borrowed at the starting date Oct. 1, 2007, and received a new loan on or after Oct. 11, 2011, will be eligible for this plan.

But let’s take a step back from the offered solutions of the government and dire situation of student debt in America.

While there are many reasons to explain why student debt has increased exponentially over the years, it can be attributed to the rising cost of education. As mentioned earlier, the average cost of a four-year college has risen from $8,700 in 1980 to $21,600 in 2010. That’s nearly triple the amount students were paying for college back in the 1980s.

So if anything, college is becoming less accessible to families with lower incomes. Only 30 percent of low-income parents had a plan to pay for the children’s college before they enrolled, according to Mother Jones. Nearly 60 percent of high-income parents had a plan to pay for college.

To take it even further, 60 percent of the nation’s student loan debt is held by households with a networth of $8,500 or less, according to the same Mother Jones article. Only 17 percent of the student loan debt is held by households with a networth of $8,500-$79,000. For an extreme contrast, only 3 percent of the debt is held by households with a networth of $983,000 or more.

There’s no denying the economic disparity in America. And in terms of achieving higher education, it seems that the rising cost of education is only in the favor of those in a better economic situation.

To put this debt situation into more perspective, a US News article points out that the two groups hit the hardest by the debt are women and people of color. The articles finds that among the 2007-2008 group that received a bachelor’s degree, employed full-time in 2009, women earned about $35,200 while their male counterparts earned $42,900. And in the case for people of color, 27 percent of African-American bachelor degree holders had more than $30,500 as compared to 16 percent for their white counterparts.

In terms of dropping out of school, 69 percent of African-American students opted to leave because of student debt,  while only 43 percent of their white counterparts gave such a reason. And 74 percent of Latina/os opted not to attend college due to financial reasons.

In a better society, such reasons shouldn’t even exist. In Germany, higher education is funded by the government. According to a New York Times article, students are upset that some German universities are charging them about $1,300 to attend a university. The article states that paying for education is highly unpopular among the students and the general population.

Perhaps America can stop looking at colleges as a business venture and turn them into institutions that are meant for the advancement of its people and country. Maybe the German education system can be used as an example to reform higher education and perhaps end the economic disparities and huge student debt that is incurring in America.

Education isn’t meant for only the privileged few. Education should be open for everyone to attain in order to advance themselves, and society overall.