Generation Squeeze

Over the past several years the Millennial generation has been squeezed from two directions: On one side, ever rising college costs have pushed enormous amounts of debt onto young adults, and on the other, the recession, and subsequently weak recovery, has prevented young graduates from earning a paycheck sufficient to survive on their own, much less pay down their debt.

Sadly, neither of those factors appears to be getting better any time soon. As Sean Braswell writes for Ozymandias:

[A]ccording to an analyis of 2011 College Board data by the Daily, tuition and fees for a graduate of the class of 2034 will top $288,000 (in today’s dollars) at an average-priced four-year private college and $123,000 at an average-priced public college.

This represents an increase of 111 percent and 167 percent, respectively, on what the class of 2012 paid in tuition. And even though most parents on average only wind up paying about 45 percent of the sticker price — thanks to grants, scholarships and students’ own contributions – if the sticker shock of paying for a 2030’s education doesn’t make you think twice about having more than one child, then it should.

Even those exorbitant figures probably understate the enormity of the problem considering they are based on the apparently outdated notion of a four year degree. As the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a top college watchdog, writes: “Six years is the norm used by the U.S. Department of Education,” but “far too many students are now taking five, six and more years to graduate”

There are a number of factors that go into the soaring cost of education. Braswell specifically mentions the soaring number of administrators, whose ranks have swollen 50 percent faster than teachers between 2001 and 2011.

Of course there are other reasons as well. For instance, liberals love to point to the decline in state appropriations for higher education, which is true, but they decline to explain that exploding state Medicaid obligations is the root cause of that decision. And then there’s the competition factor. Sadly, many if not most colleges have stopped competing on the quality of the education they offer and are instead competing on the quality of their amenities. Gyms with new equipment, dining halls with myriad gourmet options, campus buildings designed by en vogue architects and dorms that resemble posh hotels are the metrics of success for all too many colleges today.

But perhaps the biggest problem is the explosion of student loans. Government-subsidized loans, which were at one time designed to make college more affordable, have instead been interpreted by colleges as a blank check to raise costs.

The idea that colleges can blindly raise costs should be anathema to a society, and particularly a generation, that has experienced such economic difficulties over the past several years. As Elizabeth MacDonald writes for Fox Business:

Many college students are increasingly getting priced out of getting the very same skills elected officials in Washington, D.C. have strenuously argued are needed to stop rising pay gaps.

Annual private college costs have surged 24% over the last ten years, to $40,917 on average, and are up 37% for public universities, to $18,391, data from the College Board show. At the same time, median U.S. household income has steadily dropped 5.7% from 2003 to 2013.

Meanwhile, student unemployment worsened over the last decade: The 20-to-24-age bracket saw jobless rates rising to 11.1% from 9.5% in 2003, and for 25 and older, it grew a percentage point to 5.6%.

Young adults desperately need both of those trends to change if they’re ever going to dig themselves out of the current economic hole and begin making progress towards the American Dream. But our generation can’t just sit back and wait for change to happen. We have to actively shape our future and that begins by voting in November.