A Man in debt is so far a slave
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Being a financially-minded individual, I cannot believe the current state of events that has dawned upon American youth. Imagine taking a young man or woman, at the ripe age of 18 — one who most likely has no credit score or serious income or financial security — and not only allowing, but encouraging them to take out a six-figure loan. In what should be reality, most would recoil in absolute shock at the fact they are taking on such a risk — and at the probability of becoming a debt slave for the next 50 years. In actuality, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 70% of high school graduates each year are taking on this ludacris deal just to go to college. Somehow, we aren’t freaking out over this idea — this is because Americans have become desensitized to debt. Debt is just a word you throw around, one with a natural sense of taboo, yet one that is funny — where people will joke about a $3,500 monthly credit card bill like they are narrating a baby trying to walk or sarcastically covering up an audible fart at the dinner table. This is because everyone now has debt — it has been conditioned in our mind to be a non-threat. We have made debt commonplace, like an extra twenty-pound beer gut which you don’t feel obligated to lose, since all guys your age have one too. It is as American as a double cheeseburger, a gastric bypass surgery, and an overpriced beer at the baseball game. If, in a certain scenario, debt was able to protrude through the sense of normalcy it has set on our minds, and was shown broadly for what it was, we would see mass hysteria. People would shun debt. Any member of a social circle who willingly took out unnecessary loans would have a subliminal crimson letter D pinned on their chest. Joking about debt would be like joking about developing cervical cancer.
All this being said, why in the ever-loving hell are the vast majority of our youth gladly signing their financial freedoms away once they walk out of high school graduation?
The sad truth is that there are very few other options. In today’s society, we don’t see the glorious opportunities which were bountiful for the Baby Boomers — one cannot just walk out of high school and get a nice unionized job where two years’ salary can afford you a nice town house. Without a college degree, you shave down your chance at being in decent financial shape for life to a razor thin margin. Our parents practically have a gun to our heads, forcing us to sign away our future to go get a watered-down degree, while when they were in college, they could work a part time job and pay most of their tuition each semester out of pocket.
This sounds dull and depressing, but is the current state of affairs for our youth. College prices have spiraled out of control, yet we keep sending our teens there.
The cost of a four-year college degree has seen rampant inflation in the United States over the past 30 years. According to Savingforcollege.com, over the past ten years alone, there has been a yearly average college tuition price increase of 5%. This far exceeds the average yearly inflation of the US Dollar, as well as the average expected yearly growth of a worker’s personal income. Forbes states that since 1985, when the significant yearly inflation in degree costs came to fruition, the cost of a college degree has gone up 498%. This massive Venezuelan-Bolivar-style of inflation currently puts the average cost of a year of college in the United States (including housing and other fees) at a whopping $25,290 in 2018. Private schools on average fetch almost double, at $50,900.
This is the painful, yet normal reality placed on the majority of high school graduates. The average student, based on which place of higher education they choose, will have to take on $100–200k of debt for a certificate that is necessary to be a functional worker in today’s labor force. Of course, a good chunk of students get scholarships and financial assistance, but seeing these numbers and knowing that potentially millions of kids each year are taking these massive financial burdens should strike pity and confusion into the hearts of everyone.
Debt should not be an American ideal. Debt ties you down — it eats away at your financial freedom and pursuit of happiness. We are literally taking these metaphorical cattle, fresh out of high school, and feeding them into the slaughterhouse one by one. It is a burden that seems to be quite hard to dodge in today’s society. Worse, this sad truth will only continue. College tuition is continuing to rise quicker than the yearly dollar inflation. Jobs at home and abroad are seeming to ask for more and more from our youth. Many are weeding out candidates with Bachelor’s degrees, asking for a Masters, or 5 years’ experience to get into the pool of potential hires. This certificate of enslavement which we work so hard to achieve is now becoming the bare minimum to join the workforce in many fields. Debt is becoming more and more commonplace, not less, as it should be.
Through all this gloom, I, as a college student, have imagined hope. As a student who will achieve a degree in Economics, I am keen to cite The Invisible Hand of the free market as a way to fix this problem. Consumers only have one choice today if they want to get a serious career — and that is become a slave to the system that has become higher education. I dream of a spark — one that lights the tinder that erupts into a flame that can change this monotonous life choice for the better. We need to, as fellow emotional and rational beings, create a new educational system where people can get the help they need to succeed. Of course, this cannot come overnight and still function, as a degree from an accredited university is needed for a job. Yet, this idea can evolve from the areas of employment that may not necessarily require a degree to get into.
When you think of entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, you notice that they conquered great entrepreneurial feats without achieving a degree. Entrepreneurs — those who grab life by the horns and go the risky but rewarding route of self-employment — don’t need a degree to prove themselves. Today’s entrepreneurs aren’t those with massive qualifications such as a doctorate — they employ those with doctorates. Instead, they are often fresh out of college after a four year degree, many of which admit wasn’t necessary for their success. Elon Musk said it best — skills are more necessary than degrees. Musk himself had dropped out of his Ph.D program at Stanford to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. Many modern entrepreneurs such as Musk openly admit that their higher education was only a small factor toward their success. These high achieving people were getting the skills to succeed from reading countless books, browsing the internet for ideas and information, connecting with professionals in the desired fields of interest, and delving into those fields and learning hands-on. Elon Musk founded SpaceX and Tesla and is now worth $21 billion. In the end, what matters most aren’t your credentials — the letters that may follow your name — but what you make for yourself and bring to the world.
The next generation of entrepreneurs are likely still going to, or planning on going to college. Many hate the idea — they have a dream they want to chase, yet see how ingrained this idea of “higher education equals success” is in society — so they trudge along into debt. If we can start somehow convincing the next Bezos or Musk to not go to college, and offer them a different route of quality affordable education and skills needed for success and life, we could see a chain reaction that opens a better pathway for our young American go-getters. The only question which remains is — who will start the revolution?