May 25, 2013 3:39:13 PM
The months of May and June are exciting times for young grads. The Golden Triangle has multiple high schools, universities and junior colleges churning out graduates with assembly-line speed. Cameras are snapping keepsake photos of broad smiles on beaming students, and especially of their pleased parents.
The soon-to-be-ex-students are probably dreaming of further degrees of freedom and independence. Their parents may have innovative plans for a newly vacated bedroom. All that cramming, writing and poring over 20-pound textbooks will finally pay off for the kids. The end of exorbitant tuition, books and living expenses can finally be seen by the moms and dads.
But wait! Higher education is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. However, not always in a good way. "Outstanding student loans today total more than $1 trillion, surpassing credit card debt. Student loan debt has increased nearly 300 percent over the last eight years." (New York Federal Reserve)
What does this mean? According to Mashable.com, "22,600,000 18-34-year-olds still live with mom and dad" (May, 2013). It also means that "Individuals with high student loan debt burden are less likely to own a home, have a car loan or even make rent payments." (American Association of University Women)
What happened to affordable education? In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Higher Education Act. "HEA provided grants to institutions of higher learning for research, allocated need-based aid to students in the form of scholarships and loans ... " (lawhighereducation.com) The idea was to make education attainable for everyone who wanted it.
And it worked. I am one of millions who would probably not have been able to attend college without this help. In my generation, we were told that a college degree meant higher earnings, better employment, and increased status. It absolutely guaranteed a rosy future. Slight hyperbole, perhaps. Still, there were advantages, even for barely-employable liberal arts people, like me.
I enjoyed college. It never occurred to me that four years was so very short and that I would have to repay those loans. I did, though. Mine were not in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as countless now are. Sadly, higher education has become financially out of reach for too many who want it.
For the first time in decades, going to college may be a money-losing option. By the time a student graduates, especially from medical school or law school, they may not be able to repay their loans before they are old and gray, and ready for retirement.
I truly believe in education, not because it increases one's probability of making more money. The rewards are even more precious. Education increases humanity, unlocks the mind, opens vistas. It may be the most significant tool for launching greatness.
I send warm congratulations to all Golden Triangle graduates, and special kudos to the parents who helped them reach this goal. Now, we must not forget others who would follow. This country needs achievable and affordable education for everyone. We must not give up the fight to make this possible. It is essential for our future.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.
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