Higher education, debt and false dreams

It’s been hard not to pick up the Wall Street Journal in recent months, and not see an article about the the spiralling cost of higher education to students in the US and the increase in defaults on student loans. Outstanding federal and private student-loan debt is approaching $1 trillion in the US. Student loans are now the second largest form of household debt, surpassing credit cards and car loans. The White House is now proposing to forgive billions of dollars in student debt over the next decade.

Although this sounds like a promising proposal for those riddled with education loan debts, it’s clear that many students have been encouraged to borrow too much money, with the expectation that such an investment will lead to longer term salary gains. In fact recent research by economics cautions that a university degree is no guarantee of promising employment. Unfortunately many students are being sold a false dream.

Many of those burdened with loan debts are mature students who are led to believe that by paying a great deal of money to attend a university that the benefits of a degree will ensure their economic success. These mature students are often working full-time and have family commitments so it’s not surprising that not all of them complete their degrees. This leaves them with mounting debts and no qualification to show for it. A report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education shows that just 56 percent of college students complete four-year degrees within six years. The US also finished last (46 percent) for the percentage of students who completed college once they commenced, of 18 countries tracked by the OECD.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that people are looking at alternative ways of gaining a higher education without getting saddled with long-term debt. Some of these initiatives are coming from young people such as Dale Stephens, a Thiel Fellow and proud high school drop out who founded UnCollege, which assists students with designing their own educational paths. MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) are also being used for self-directed learning. The challenge of certification for this form of learning still remains however. This is something that the team at Acavista are committed to finding solutions for.