Colleges Role in Income Inequality – Take Two

The middle class is disappearing. We’re becoming a society where students can’t go to school, become a librarian and raise a family on average income because average income isn’t sustainable. Here’s an issue similar to what some of my recent college graduate friends are going through:

If Macy lives in the middle of nowhere, and she’s being told that the key to success is to go to a well known school in a big city and work hard. Her family makes $75k a year supporting a household of 4. They can’t afford a big city school, but once again, they’re told that the key to Macy’s success is that big city school. So the school, with all its degree offerings, gives Macy $40k a year, which covers 2/3 of the school’s $60k per year cost of living. She takes out a loan for $20k and her parents provide her with $7k throughout the academic year for every day expenses. She does this for the next three years, coming out of school with $80k in debt. She realizes that after those four years, she wants to work in publishing, which makes on average$40k a year– that’s before taxes. Marcy believes this is her calling, but it won’t help her repay her $80k debt, which will grow because of principle and interest. In addition to paying back her debt, she’d like to go out with friends occasionally, take a vacation once every two years, manage the cost of living and save for her future family. It’s a lot she wants to do with a starting salary of $40k, but she hopes to grow in her career. She can make upwards of 75k per year in the next 15 years. She’s willing to take on the stress of her goals but $80k-and-growing-debt is too much stress with her level of income. She may not be able to go on vacation, rent an apartment or buy a used car because of the bad credit she incurred because her loans will bring her credit score down.

Some might say she should have gone to a local, low-cost college, but that local, low-cost college wouldn’t have got her the job she wants at a publishing company that will pay $40k a year. In order for Macy to find herself, she has to go to college. She realized she wants to work in publishing, earning $40k a year, but if it costs her $80k to land her dream job, it’s not a sound investment, and I guess, that’s Macy’s fault.

The problem with higher education is that low and middle income families who are taking on tens of thousands of dollars in student loans can’t major in anything or go to any school. In order to manage the financial burden, they must trade in what they want to do (which may pay less) for something that they may not be passionate about but pays more. The cost of college today makes it impossible for graduates, who are interested in a not so lucrative career path, to succeed.

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