Obama was out and about yesterday talking about the problem of student loan debt and the need for colleges/universities to keep costs down. There were numerous reports on all this; this piece from NPR, “Negotiating The College Funding Labyrinth,” is pretty typical.
I don’t disagree with a lot of what’s here. College does cost too much, students are borrowing too much, and there is a lack of transparency regarding the cost of higher education, particularly at private institutions where it is common for students to negotiate what they pay based on how much they can afford. This is all a problem.
However, there are two things that are always always always left out of these stories. First, the reason why college costs so much– or at least the reasons why public institutions cost so much– is because the government (mostly at the state-level) has stopped funding higher education. Imagine the difference it would make if the feds kicked in a few billion dollars into public higher ed in this country: for a tenth of what we’re spending on the military, I think we could have a system in the US where attending college was virtually free.
Second, student loan debt is too high in part because too many students borrow more money than they need because the loans are easily available and young people don’t necessarily think long and hard about the implications of paying back loans. And I say this based on experience: in my MFA program, I took out student loans, much of which I used to pay legitimate expenses of course, but much of which I used to do things like buy speakers for my stereo. Of course, I still have those speakers, so maybe it was a worthwhile investment.