A couple of days ago, New York Times Columnist Charles Blow wrote of how big debt is the "dangerous new normal" for young graduates.
He is not wrong in identifying a genuine problem for individuals, but only a symptom of larger social challenge: that the price is a failure of our society and government to recognize that higher educate is a public policy issue.
The costs of higher education have risen at about the same rate as health care over the last generation. Yet we treat the rising price of higher education as if had no cost, and the commensurate student debt rate as if it were a surprise. Of course, a relatively stagnate economy on the other end of graduation does not help our graduates either.
American higher education is the jewel in the crown of 20th century American society. Nothing about this country's pre-eminence globally or historically spectacular degrees of upward mobility -- including the opportunity for broad civil rights movements to be to successful in varying degrees -- would not be possible without higher education. And yet we continue to think about it in the most simple and marginalized terms.
Politicians batting around the price issue will not move the question. Higher education deserves deep thinking and sound commitments from all of American society, and yes, those commitments will include money. Families and students regard tuition as an investment. Our legislators should regard college education similarly. U.S. colleges and universities, both their costs and their prices, are a central public policy challenges for us all, not a one-off issue to be blamed on single issues such as "administrations that don't act like businesses," "information technology," "highly paid [fill in the blank: faculty, administrators, consultants, publishers, laboratories, compliance, etc.]. We must broaden our perspective to move this matter progressively forward and a single focus on price will get us nowhere until we recognize it as a symptom of a much larger concern that involves us all.
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