Dismantling The Middle Class: The Hidden Cost Of Higher Education
On April 23, 2012, 1:01 PM by Amanda Richards
How for-profit education and student loans are killing the middle class in America.
For decades, education was viewed as the most important step on the path out of poverty and the golden ticket to class mobility in American society. While this may still ring true for those managing on a hand-to-mouth existence, the role of education in securing the continued upward economic trajectory of the middle class is much less certain. Indeed, with rising costs of tuition and cuts in student aid, the debt burden of a college education may be enough to break the middle class.
The American middle class, historically admired for its size and diversity, owes much of its existence to the public universities that made access to higher education available to everyone regardless of socio-economic background. According to Christopher Newfield in his book Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class: “There has never been a middle class in history that was not created by public infrastructure—by facilities offering rough equity regardless of personal means. As the middle class cuts public education, it cuts the conditions of its own existence.”
Since 1980, college tuition has more than doubled. Potential students often must seek outside funding in addition to scholarships, financial aid and parental support. Students used to put themselves through college on part-time jobs, but with tuition averaging roughly $21,000 a year and rising faster than inflation, the prospect of doing it alone is not an option for most – and the alternative has some pretty significant setbacks.
With disturbing analogs to the mid-2000s mortgage crisis, the United States government with backing from the Federal Reserve provided student loans via government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to individuals regardless of income or ability to repay. And government aid does not always offset the entire cost of tuition and living expenses, which forces students to take on debt in order to complete their education.
“Student loans are among the most lucrative you can make because the borrower has no protections and the creditor is afforded extraordinary powers,” says Andrew Ross, NYU Professor and labor expert at the student debt press conference. As such, these debts cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and are guaranteed through the garnishment of wages and assets, provisions which go so far as to allow creditors to commandeer disability and social security checks. Additionally, since student loans are federally backed, the government will take over collection of the loan and repay the lender in the event of a default. In a perverse case of corporate socialism, it is ultimately the taxpayer who assumes all the risk and responsibility.