This brings me to my second point, the massive increase in student debt, triggered in a large part by the fact that college tuition continues to rise at a rate much higher than the cost of living. According to CNN, here are the grim statistics (bear in mind that the unemployment numbers for college grads tend to vary because they are so difficult to calculate): College seniors who graduated last year owed an average of $24,000 in student-loan debt, up 6% from the year before, according to a report from the Project on Student Debt. That data is based on an annual analysis of student-loan debt at more than 1,000 public and private nonprofit four-year institutions. At the same time, unemployment for recent college graduates (according to this site) jumped from 5.8% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2009—the highest annual rate on record.
So here’s my somewhat obvious question: Is it worthwhile for high-school graduates to go to college right now? My provisional answer, and I’d really like to be persuaded otherwise is “no.” The Republican Party and President Obama are clearly, as we’ve learned in the last weeks, at loggerheads over student-loan reform, so it’s unlikely to happen. Obama argues that students are being crushed by education-related debt; Republicans argue that tightening student-loan regulations and making it easier (and ultimately less punitive) for students to borrow will only serve as an incentive for colleges to increase tuition even more. Both positions are supportable, but as for high-school graduates right now, I think college is a bad bet. The exceptions: highly practical occupation-related fields and quick and cheap two-year credentials, or, of course, independently wealthy parents or some other guaranteed lifetime-income stream. Otherwise, to start your life with a massive amount of debt (on which one cannot default) and a good chance that you won’t find a full-time job, let alone a secure one with career potential, just doesn’t make sense.