Like most democratic countries in the world, it is true that the United States of America is a “Land of Opportunity.” However, when it comes to education, the US system can be seen as extremely controversial and in question amongst young Americans. Most people have been told at a young age about the necessity of a college degree in order to have any kind of future success. However, most educators never seem to mention the cost and financial burden that this degree will come with. Most of them tend to underestimate the reality that young Americans are faced with after graduating and dealing with student loan debt. The somewhat astounding fact is that this seems to be solely an American issue. When we look at the other countries in the world, especially in Europe, many countries offer very low-cost or even free public university tuition. This goes to show that there is a real problem with the American methodology of education. If these other countries can educate their youth at such a low cost, why can’t America follow suit?
A huge problem within the school system is that it fails to teach students about how to handle and invest their finances. Most students who graduate from high-school and college are lacking the necessary knowledge in order to help them build financial stability. Unfortunately, the current school system also remains very old-fashioned and outdated. It fails to educate students in regard to the new age of technology in which we are living in. As technology has grown over the years, the education system has remained relatively the same. Therefore, it fails to educate students about the new possibilities that technology has brought to the table as far as earning a stable income.
The schools also lack the teaching of so-called “life skills”. We all know that the majority of information we learn in the classroom will rarely be applied to the real world. While the system does teach students about the idea of developing discipline and organizational skills, the overall content being taught often at times is not applicable to adulthood and becoming financially successful (which is the goal of most people). In hindsight, one can theoretically believe that the American educational system simply doesn’t want young people to have financial freedom when they are in their 20s and 30s. Therefore, intentionally or not, the system sets students up to financially fail as young adults due to the lack of applicable financial knowledge.
According to Jillian Berman of MarketWatch:
“The Great Recession helped push student debt passed 1.5 trillion dollars, up from about 671 billion at the beginning of 2008, According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Data.”
This is just an insane number for any type of expense let alone pursuing one’s right to a quality education. When we look back at the 2008 recession, we can see somewhat of a Domino-Effect. Basically, what stems for any type of recession is a lack of employment opportunities within the market. During this time students were often unable to find reliable jobs to assist with the funding of their student loans during their studies. As a result, students were being (and continue) to be told by their elders that they need to go back to school to become better qualified and marketable. Long story short, this creates even more loan debt from the rise in enrollment and student loan usage.
For-Profit Colleges are exactly what their name says they are. They are out to benefit from the increase in student enrollment by offering students degrees that are essentially worth little to nothing in the eyes of employers. So, what most of them do is form some ridiculous name like “The Western Hemisphere University of Sciences” (hypothetically speaking, excuse my humor) and use the power of Facebook ads and other social media outlets to lure students into thinking they are receiving an accredited degree via online. However, since these degrees do not hold the same respect within the already reeling job market and this leads to more and more additional debt.
As an old adage says, “Do what you love and forget the rest.” Sure, this may be partially true in the sense that people should want to work in a field that they enjoy. However, too many students are majoring in fields that simply have little to no market. Instead of making educational decisions based solely on oneself and their interests, students need to reverse-engineer this idea by looking at what the market is demanding and how their interests, skills, and abilities can be translated into those fields. As it turns out, the lack of marketable and valuable degrees played a big role in this crisis.
The lyrics from the hit song Bittersweet Symphony state, “Try to make ends meet, you’re a slave too money then you die.” Young Americans are experiencing this reality now more than ever. In a way, they are trapped in “Debt-Hell” for lack of a better term. What most fail to realize is that this crisis is damaging the American Economy as a whole. The housing market and auto industry are prime examples. Most early graduates don’t have the financial ability to take on mortgages or car payments on top of their monthly student loan bills. In turn, this creates a decrease in cash flow within these industries.
So, going back to the original question… Why is this type of crisis only existent in the United States? I wish I had an answer to that question. However, it is important for citizens outside of the US to understand the amount Americans are paying for their education. Does paying up to 300-400 dollars every month for the next 20-30 years, while also trying to build a life and a career really sound like the Land of Opportunity? America is or (once was) a great country depending on how you choose to look at it. However, I believe that the “Land of Opportunity” phrase has long been outdated considering America’s current price on post-secondary education. It is important for Europeans and those abroad to appreciate the fact that they do not have to experience this degree of debt at such a young age. It is also important to realize that the glory American colleges receive in movies and on television is simply a façade. While yes, college may be a fun and enjoyable experience, the cost students pay for those four years is not worth the next 20-30 years of financial burden and stress.
The word “Prisoner” has a few definitions. These range from a person who has been put behind bars for committing a crime, to a person who simply feels confined or trapped by a situation. Nevertheless, both situations define a prisoner. Society tends to cringe at the idea of this word. We tend to view a prisoner as someone who has drastically failed in their life. A prisoner is someone who is hopeless and has had all freedom taken away from them. When you really think about it, America is punishing and financially imprisoning young Americans because they are exercising their right to a quality education. That alone sounds like a crime in itself. Unfortunately, what it really boils down to is that young educated Americans are trapped. While it may not be the same as officially being behind bars, it sure feels like a prison.