Forgoing College to Forgo Debt

Road sign saying unlimited possibilities with the "un" crossed out with big, red "x"In education, we are headed toward a perfect storm. Increasingly large numbers of capable students are so afraid of incurring debt that they are deciding not to go to college.

I’m not talking about marginal students but successful students.

These are not the students that lawmakers are likely to hear about. They and their families are too busy surviving to call their Congress people (if they know who those people are or have the guts to call someone so high up). Most can’t imagine affecting politics beyond voting for Sanders or Trump.

They and We Are Missing Out

Smart and capable high school students are going straight to work in the service sector. They represent wasted potential just when we, as a nation, need more not fewer educated people. Despite a few highly-publicized Ivy League admissions, the opportunity for a college education is not guaranteed for even the gifted.

In my own extended family, three young people in the generation after mine – students who qualified for Gifted and Talented classes in school – did not get college degrees, though one took some online courses. The financial obstacles in their way and the uncertainty of outcomes meant that all three, though contributing to society as employees, family members and good people, are contributing far below their potential.

Skeptic about Loan Debt

But who can blame these students for their choice? Poor people need money now. How can students hope to pay back their loans (many at 20% interest, because the poorest people have the least chance to establish credit) if they can find only fast-food jobs or other part-time, variable-hour, minimum-wage retail work?

Unless we take steps towards a minimum income or guaranteed jobs, it’s going to get much worse. Many tech leaders (several interviewed in Esquire magazine last year) acknowledge that with technological advancements, we will have more robots and even fewer jobs.

Those with the greatest power to change access to education, will have fewer and fewer opportunities to know about those who are cut out.”

A few people will get immensely wealthy designing a drone, website or app (or investing in such companies), and everyone else will sink lower. And the worst part is that those who make it, those with the greatest power to change access to education, will have fewer and fewer opportunities to know about those who are cut out.

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