By Edmund Zhen
Published: November 28th, 2018
When you walk into a store to purchase something, do you find yourself gravitating towards quality or quantity? Does it matter that what you’re buying is higher in quality for a higher price? Or would you prefer a generic, off-brand version for slightly cheaper? In some cases, you would flock to the former and for others, the latter. This is absolutely fine considering how competition is one of the prime factors for capitalism anyway. But what would your choice be in a scenario where the difference in quality and price proves to be much wider and more consequential?
In 1927, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller suggested an idea that blankets the idea of quality and quantity. This idea was a system of loans devised to offer students the support they needed. He proposed: “For those students who could not meet these higher costs, scholarship and student aid would need to be used with increasing liberality and student loan funds provided on a large scale. For most students, other than those who go in the ministry or teaching, a loan either with or without interest with the first payment date possibly ten years after graduation would meet the situation and not prove an undue burden.”
Rockefeller’s goal was to give students the monetary support needed to sustain their quality of life and still be able to go to college. All in all, this seems like an altruistic ideal that would really generate momentum in the educational sector. However, Rockefeller’s idea proved to be inefficient because it places higher education within the realm of the wealthy members of society.
Incorporating the idea of quality versus quantity actually allows us to see the persisting dilemma America is facing. With a debilitated system in which the cost of education is not on par with the returns expected from the education, Americans are digging themselves deeper and deeper into an inescapable pit of debt.
In the 90s, the average debt for public graduates was around $20,000 after adjusting for inflation. In less than 20 years, the cost ballooned by an extra $10,000 and continues to increase yearly, rendering speculators to say that the country’s student loan balance will swell up to $2 trillion by 2022. In an investigation done by CNBC, it was found that state funding for public colleges fell by $9 billion between 2008 and 2017, forcing colleges and universities to fill the gap with tuition hikes.
With today’s average of $30,000 in student loans, Americans are finding it difficult to sustain a high quality of living. On top of that, some student loan companies are making life harder for them. One company called Navient has been exposed by the government for allegedly steering “struggling borrowers toward multiple postponements of their loans instead of into income-driven repayment plans, which cap monthly payments at a percentage of the borrower’s income.” Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood stated, “Navient’s conduct is estimated to have added $4 billion to the national student loan debt. Students are the future of our state, and the presence of companies in Mississippi that knowingly take advantage of students who need the money to continue their education will not be allowed under my watch.”
Despite rising prices, the quality of higher education has also eroded. One cause would be the slash of funding that created a trickling effect that has hurt all of society. For one, the languishing payments to CUNY adjuncts and professors cause differences in the materials they teach and a decline in their ability to sustain their families. If educators aren’t getting paid the wages they need, how will students flourish when the educators are in trouble themselves? According to researcher Jonathan Rothwell, in 1988, for every 100 full-time students, there was an average of 23 college employees. But by 2012, that number had swelled to 31 employees, with a shift towards the highest paying non-teaching occupations. Now, managers and professionals outnumber faculty, who only comprise a third of the higher education workforce.
It was once common for colleges to have a core curriculum for students. There would be courses that would build the foundation of a broad and deep education that left students with a well-rounded worldview upon graduation. The issue now is that the curriculum has been eroded so much that it is possible for most students to graduate without ever feeling that they learned anything of value for their lives.
As a college student myself, the education system startles me as I am also appalled with some of the immoral and vacuous decisions our government makes. Living in a world where technology regularly restructures the workforce, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the future will require workers to have a college education. The government’s failure to properly invest in the future will only add on to the pile of perilous and irreversible mistakes America is currently making, such as exiting the Paris Agreement.
With our current president’s undeviating proclamation of our nation’s greatness and power, my rebuttal is, how can our nation be so great if our educational performance ranks #17 in the world? How is America great when it has the most outstanding student debt in the world? When we do not consider future generations by opting out of the Paris Agreement? When our incarceration rate is the highest in the world? When our healthcare is ranked last in the bottom of the developed world?
There are so many proven facts that would argue against the idea of America being the greatest country in the world. We are most certainly not the best, but we are undeniably more advanced and robust than many. In order to obtain that title, there are myriads of problems we need to bond together to ameliorate. We need to oust people in positions of power that pose as a danger to our democracy and rights. We need to set our eyes far into a future in which we can ensure that new generations will enjoy the same prosperity as us and more. Most importantly, we need to have uncorrupted, unrigged systems that operate for the welfare of the people and not for personal interests. As an American who loves this nation, I believe that change is achievable because we are a nation that has all the right resources and talents to propel it forward.
All we’re missing is a leader.