By Sammi Elefant
Americans owe almost $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. See A Look At The Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2017, Student Loan Hero (Feb. 8 2017) archived at https://perma.cc/Q55C-5EUB. The average graduate of the Class of 2016 took on $37,172 in crippling debt that can hover over them for many years. Unsurprisingly, that number is up 6% from the year before and will continue to climb as tuition rates unsympathetically increase.
The number one reason people seek out a college education is to get a sustainable job. Higher education has long been seen as a rite of passage to employment with bachelor’s degrees placed on the hiring checklist as a pre-requisite for most employers and even graduate level degrees. However, most traditional institutions are failing to live up to this popular expectation. While the cost of a college education skyrockets, its return on investment is plummeting leaving fresh graduates severely underprepared to meet workforce competency assumptions in skill set levels.
This issue is at the helm of bipartisan disagreement. Historically, Democrats have advocated for government intervention to create affordable education options for all students by proposing amendments to the federal loan system in order that students might accrue less debt. The Obama Administration advanced the most in student aid since the G.I. Bill, which post-9/11, paid full tuition for public education for those who served in the military. Under President Obama, the Pell Grant program, which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students, was also expanded to provide more funding. Though for the 2015-2016 award the maximum Pell Grant was $5,775 – not nearly enough to cover the expense of being a student in today’s higher education system.
Bernie Sanders, during his election campaign, set forth a comprehensive tuition free and debt free plan in the service of accessibility to higher education no matter a student’s socio-economic background. Sanders continues to be one of the more vocal senators on education reform. The Sanders plan was criticized by the right as a radical socialist proposal – however, many other countries around the world such as Germany, Norway, and Sweden offer free college options to all of their citizens. These countries are doing it right.
On the other side, Republicans advocate for less government intervention in higher education promoting privatized solutions that effectively prepare students for employment and lessen student loan accumulation. It is not yet clear what position the current administration will take. Betsy DeVos has faced much criticism during her first weeks as education secretary in the face of her outspoken support for school choice initiatives at the state level for K-12 education. DeVos has instigated some endorsement for untraditional higher-ed options but has yet to take a clear stance on the issue. The bottom line is that the debt crisis promulgated by the current state of higher education crosses party boundaries. This is where technology finds its place.
Online learning is continuing to gain momentum as a cost-effective choice for career-focused students. However, online institutions are unceasingly slighted as inferior to the four-year bachelor’s path. Its harshest critics question whether or not online learning can adequately prepare students with the foundational theory-based proficiency on which the country’s most storied institutions pride themselves. What educators are failing to realize is that the upcoming generation of students are transforming this theory-based learning to project-based learning, where the theoretical can come to life through real-world application.
University degrees drive the economy. Nevertheless, the reputation placed on what type of degree students earn is changing. Students are no longer waiting for access to justice. Online institutions are beginning to fill the void in providing debt-free options with a direct pathway to employment. The current state of higher education in the United States is counter-productive to the best interests of its economy, and most importantly of its people.
Student Bio: Sammi Elefant is a staffer on the Journal of High Technology Law. She is currently in her second year at Suffolk University Law School. Sammi holds a B.S. in Marketing Communications, and a B.A. in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.