College tuition and fees have increased 1120% since records began in 1978, far outpacing the price of inflation according to Bloomberg. The United States needs to find a way to make college more affordable for everybody. For millions of young people rising college costs are putting the American dream on hold or out of reach, the United States government needs to pay the full tuition for every high school graduate to go to college.

Millions of kids are not attending college, not because they are unqualified, but because they simply cannot afford it. We need to further narrow educational inequalities by understanding that these inequalities exist. The income divide has received far less attention from policymakers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race. Income, not race, is the real determining factor in higher education today. Families that earn in the top 25% of income in the United States send 80% of their children to college. Of the bottom 25% of income earners in the US less than 10% of the children go to college according to USA Today College Planner. Family income is the new predictor of a child’s future achievement. Education should be the great equalizer in American society. Education can lift less advantaged children and improve their chances for lifetime success as adults. The achievement gap between rich and poor is the new racism in the United States. Over time, cultural and social differences combine to preserve privilege across many generations. Unequal school financing across school districts is also unfair. There are major advantages for students from wealthy families with more economic resources. Wealthy parents can invest more time and money in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors and weekend SAT prep classes.

As a nation, we need more college graduates in order to stay competitive in a global economy. Based on economy and job projections calculated by Georgetown University, in 2018, “63% of jobs will require some college education or a degree” (Orman 293). A whopping 85% of Forbes 2012 America's 400 richest people list were college grads. College graduation is better for society as a whole. People who do not go to college are significantly more likely to be unemployed placing an undue financial strain on society, making a college degree worth it to the taxpayers. In April of 2013 the unemployment rate for college graduates over 25 years old was 3.6% compared to 7.5% for high school graduates. The median income for families headed by a bachelor’s degree holder was $100,096 in 2011, more than double than that for a family headed by a high school graduate.

Young people not engaged in employment, education or training are called NEET by the US government. NEET are more likely to receive welfare, commit crimes, and receive public healthcare than other youth. The Minneapolis Star estimated that 7% of the US population is considered NEET youth in a 2009 article. In total, each NEET youth between the ages of 16 and 25 cost American society $51,350 a year, over their lifetime each will impose a financial burden of $699,770. The total cost to US taxpayers is $4.75 trillion dollars, which is comparable to half the US public debt. It simply makes financial sense for the US government to finance education for everybody.

In many countries college is simply free to attend. Germany, Finland and many other European countries, view higher education as more of a public than a private benefit. They can afford this by working adults paying higher taxes. For example, whereas in the US parents are expected to help pay for their children's college education, in Sweden parental income levels are just not part of the equation. Students are viewed as adults, responsible for their own finances. In Sweden, the entire system is aimed at severing the financial link between parents and young adults. While Swedish students do end up with debt, the monthly costs of carrying that debt are pretty cheap. It's about 3.8% of estimated average monthly income of new graduates. In other words, the Swedish system of student debt is financially manageable and sets students up to begin their lives as viable adults separate from their parent’s right after high school.


But it is important to remember that a high-cost, debt-based system was not always the norm here. In 1994 fewer than half of graduates borrowed for college compared to 7 in 10 graduates today. And in 1984 you could finance a year’s worth of tuition at a minimum-wage summer job according to a Boston Globe article titled College Debt at 60? But due to deep and unrelenting state budget cuts that time is over.

College debt is crippling the nation. An advisory council to the Federal Reserve warned that the growth in student debt "has parallels to the housing crisis" (College Tuition in the U.S.).As of Jan. 2013, the rate of default on student loans hit 15.1%, a nearly 22% increase since 2007.Between 2003 and 2012 the number of 25-year-olds with student debt increased from 25% to 43%. Their average loan balance was $20,326 in 2012--a 91% increase since 2003. According to the US Congress Joint Economic Committee, approximately 60% of 2011 college graduates have student loan debt balances equaling 60% of their annual income. Student loan debt now tops credit card debt among Americans. High levels of debt are increasingly impeding young people from purchasing cars or homes and all the other trappings of adulthood.

College is just too expensive. Prices are rising rapidly for higher education because of the predominant role of third-party payments including Federal student loans, grants, state government support for institutions and endowment income. When somebody else is paying the bills students are less sensitive to the price, allowing colleges to care less about keeping prices under control. “Because universities are nonprofit in nature it reduces incentives for college and universities to be efficient” (Marte 2). The government subsidizes education for many people already. The time is come from the American government to simply pay for every single high school senior to go to college. In the long run it will make the entire nation richer. The United States needs to make college not part of the American dream but part of the American reality. With American students, recent graduates, and their families staggering under a pile of debt it is becoming clear the US must change how it pays for college. If the US government pays for college, ending college debts, it is a solution for an age-old problem. It is society's way of financing a restructuring period for the currently unproductive assets it will depend on in the future: young people.

"...The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education." From a speech given by Martin Luther Kingon March 14, 1964, when he accepted the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers

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Orman, Suze. The Road to Wealth. Riverhead Books, 2013. Print.

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