The government’s promise of student loans as a gateway to education and subsequent financial independence has been a huge misdirect for us as well. Student debt has tripled since 2008, and there has been a skyrocketing discrepancy in the cost of college and the loans taken out in comparison to how quickly students can pay them off once they graduate. Not to mention, student loans played a large part in the Great Recession as part of the false American Dream that was sold to us by Wall Street and the Fed.
Tuition since the 80’s has gone up more than 800%, and as we’ve discussed in my previous analysis the cost of living and everything else attached to a higher education has had a sharp increase without wages catching up. The origin of modern federal college assistance is from the New Deal, when it was decided a more educated populace was a good government investment. The political battle quickly became waged over what schools could receive federal assistance in a segregated country, with direct versus indirect spending to free schools from reliance on tuition cost also a hot button issue. It was decided that educational institutions needed to be desegregated to receive federal funding, but there was an unwillingness to discuss white supremacy’s influence in the country as a whole.
The government went ahead with tuition assistance so that we could get around questions of what schools/affiliates got money if they were segregated, instead sending money directly to students so they could choose how to use it. Work study programs in the 30’s were the first attempt at government college assistance, and a decade later the GI bill was created to give veterans access to education in one of the first recognitions by America that we wanted to invest in a more skilled workforce. However the funding in these early programs wasn’t enough, especially for the GI Bill, and many had to get jobs, go without meals, or even drop out from lack of funding because it was structured to give some assistance but not pay for an entire education.
Despite our urban legends surrounding the GI Bill and how great of a success and opportunity it was for returning soldiers, it still couldn’t cover all costs by design because America couldn’t be seen giving a free ride handout. (That was commie shit) There were a ton of compromises in the bill, and they were centered around a debate about how we couldn’t let soldiers get an “un-American” all expenses paid tuition even though they just put their lives on the line to defend democracy. Educational access has always been an ideological and fiercely partisan issue.
The Civil Rights Act of 1965 actually ended the debate of segregation in schools and made it so that the partisan divides would stop arguing about which schools got assistance because as with all New Deal legislation, educational assistance was almost exclusively given to white men prior to the 60’s. (Even under the GI Bill). With the debate of who could get assistance out of the way after Civil Rights (POC were finally seen as human enough for college education by the law), Congress passed the Higher Education Act quickly following in ‘65. This made it illegal to discriminate in institutions of higher learning if you wanted federal funds, and in 1972 when Title IX was added, women finally gained equal opportunities for educational assistance and access. For the talk of how great America is, we didn’t even recognize people with different color skin as human until 50 years ago and women weren’t seen as worthy of having full rights until a decade later. Even in the modern age women and people of color face extreme dehumanization and are treated as second class citizens in a country they helped build.
After 1965 HBCUs were still denied funds allotted to them because the government didn’t want to stir up more partisan division under the title of “developing institutions” for historically black universities. The White House recognized it would take years to even get those institutions up to speed in order to compete with wealthy, historically white only institutions; thus HBCUs had funds hidden from them because it would have been seen as “too political” to give black students funding to seek a higher education. That was only supposed to be a white American dream.
Equal opportunity for women was also not fully addressed with Title IX. Many people don’t realize the bill wasn’t just about sports, but equal access for women within educational institutions in general. Despite this intent, women still statistically borrow more in loans for their education and take longer to pay it off because Title IX doesn’t do anything to fix wage gaps and ingrained white supremacy within America after college, seeing already disenfranchised populations graduate with tens of thousands in debt and struggling to find a job that will let them meet their needs, let alone net them enough income to start paying off their loans. The wealth gap in America has only widened between upper class white families and the lower class, POC, and women because we haven’t actually addressed inequities in the economy.
Similar to how America reacts to every other situation by putting bandaids over the surface level consequences, generational debt will come back to haunt us and is to some extent already. The whole concept of student loans is a fallacy; a loan for education isn’t something physical that can be repossessed, the bank or government can’t take away an educational certificate. Entities that run this country have put themselves in quite the bind with student loans, and if they suddenly restricted educational access or took away aid then millions wouldn’t be able to compete in the labor force and our sacred economic growth would grind to a halt.
The whole structure of our modern loan program was modeled off New Deal housing programs, making education a mortgage-like commodity. As noted, huge racial inequities that were present in every other facet of New Deal legislation, including mortgage programs that saw millions of nuclear white families find homes while POC and women struggled, were also present in its educational assistance. These governmental failures with student loans are partially visible in observing how quickly prices of college have risen; the government mainly funded students, not the institutions they attended, and didn’t even give students enough assistance to keep up with extraneous factors such as housing costs and inflation that have made education cost more than 6 figures for the average American today.
There also weren’t attempts at bringing dorms, facilities, and other aspects of necessary infrastructure on campuses up to speed besides increasing enrollment in their for profit system. We have let the funding of college research and other programs slip, and at this point we have created a for profit system that is subsidized minimally for those who can’t afford it by putting them hundreds of thousands in debt, forcing people to not only incur the cost of tuition, but the facilities and research programs costs as well.
The environment around students is increasingly unstable as colleges are relied upon more and more to provide food and nutritional assistance, support for internet access and other tools. Colleges that never had issues of food insecurity before are needing to hire nutritional counselors and prepare to help students find access to meals that they can’t afford. Our college structure is very outdated and not accessible as an institution because it doesn’t have enough funding or the ability to provide education at an affordable cost. The first reason for this as noted is that the loans we get are disproportionately huge to cover all the extraneous costs that society and the government have failed to provide for students, saddling graduates with mountains of debt that the available jobs in our economy will not put a dent in.
On top of this the only focus for colleges is profit, and we have created a system that sees students as numbers on a sheet rather than humans trying to better their lives. Institutions compete to swoon high schoolers, doing anything to get their signature for enrollment. Once the institution has their money, they could care less what happens to the students, what career they end up with, or how they are feeling; students have become another cog in a machine of standardized tests to measure their worth followed by fierce competition to pad their resumes before applying to an institution that is rubbing its hands together thinking about how much they’ll rake in from the increase in tuition this year.
The only question students are asked for years leading up to college is what degree they’ll pursue, since it’s a given that we have to go to college to have a chance of finding work that will support us, and subsequently after being asked which degree they’ll choose teenagers are forced to pick a job they’ll exit school into so they can pay for all the debt incurred to get that piece of paper which lets them have access to more lucrative work. Modern life in America is one vicious cycle in which we tell our kids that their worth is tied to a degree they must get, ignoring any passion or desire that young people may have outside of a linear path to wage slavery.
It is no wonder that we are feeling increasingly lonely, angry, and at odds with our fellow citizens as we are coerced into participating in a system that we might not even want to, being burdened with debt and a bleak future where we’re subservient to corporate interest for years until we get to retire, if that day ever comes. You grow up with the pressure of your future looming, with questions of how you will support yourself constantly being asked, just so you can graduate high school and be fed straight to the savage capitalist system. We don’t even have a chance to understand who we are as humans before signing our lives away to an institution that we may be stuck at for years to come. Society has fully lost itself as we chase an invisible yet necessary linear path to “success.” We may never see what would be considered success either, since the only metrics of health or aspiration that America pays attention to are tied directly to financial gain and how profitable you can be.
Despite this unfortunate new feudal structure we’ve created in which young lives are signed away before they even begin, colleges are still important institutions. They provide opportunities for growth, personal development, and a sense of fulfillment within a community of like minded peers. Even the veterans who didn’t have their needs met with the GI Bill, forced to miss meals and work two jobs to even get through school, still recognized how important it was that they were able continue serving their country through a higher education.
At this point it doesn’t really matter how much debt we relive, because the cycle would just start all over again for the next generation. We need to change the way that education is viewed in our society and shift away from it being a privilege to pay for, making it a recognized right. Rather than make those who need an education to compete in American life pay for all of it, we must restructure the system to allow access to all people who want a higher education along with addressing our economic situation to make it so that colleges don’t have to provide so much extraneous assistance and drive up the cost of tuition.
The basic argument that I want the reader to understand about our education system though, is that similar to all other aspects of American life, our establishment’s greed has destroyed the institution of college and pushed the cost of an American dream yet again onto the people, putting the responsibility for their success onto themselves. If people can’t graduate and find a job that pays off their debt, they just chose the wrong job. This argument is similarly used when discussing the wage disparities between women, men and POC. Women just don’t choose the higher paying professions, so it’s their fault that men make more because they don’t want to break into male dominated fields such as coding.
Beyond the fact that women and POC have statistically much less generational wealth of their own to afford elite institutional degrees, the American professional workforce is inundated with just as much white supremacy as the country’s other institutions. Look at Activision Blizzard in the news recently for horribly misogynistic conditions, the ingrained racism and prejudices within the military or other institutions that grant easier access to education, and the general disenfranchisement that have built up within America for centuries. If white men were only recognized as human beings 50 years ago and still discriminated against in their daily lives, then I would say sure, there isn’t a wage gap because they had to overcome as much adversity as women or POC individuals did. However they don’t at all. White men can graduate prestigious institution after living a sheltered life in which they experience no discrimination or racism, only praise and coddling, have their debt paid off by a statistically likely more financially secure family, then enter a workforce in which they have dominated since the beginning of time. It is nonsensical to think, especially after reading my work in which I prove the opposite time and time again, that everyone in America has equal opportunity within our new feudalist structure.
In order to move towards a brighter future for the American education system, we must begin to think more collectively and empathetically, viewing the students in our care as more than just a number. I will write further on the topic in the future, but a great start would be offering free community college tuition so that students can receive at least an Associate’s Degree without incurring tens of thousands in expenses on top of trying to pay rent. The point of social capitalism and the ideology behind my writing is to think in terms of setting up for a prosperous future. If we take away the for profit nature of colleges that would create the ideal environment for an educated populace, but that is a debate for another time. Within a neoliberal dominated scope of thought I want readers to remember that America has nearly infinite resources, we just direct them towards things like a massive military industrial complex and quantitative easing for the wealthy. It will take a societal shift towards thinking about what is better for the future, not the immediate monetary gratification. Which isn’t even relevant since like I said, if we were to spend less time bombing families in the Middle East and direct more towards providing housing or education, or political sphere wouldn’t be tearing itself apart at the seams.