Everyone who came to America knew that the most reliable path to financial success and status was hard work and higher education. That formula even worked for those born here. The rush to higher education started in 1947 when the GI Bill sent millions of Americans to college. In fact for years almost half of all those entering college were veterans (note: Merchant Mariners were not included in that benefit.) Higher education was seen by the public as both affordable and valuable. Within five years, the percentage of Americans with a bachelor’s degree doubled and it has been climbing ever since; spurring much of the economic activity and many of the technological advances that vaulted America to a position atop the world. Now the pace has slowed and we are losing that competitive race toward a highly educated, technologically adept society.
Today the national news is filled with discussions about the detail that student loan debt has surpassed total credit card debt in America. This has spurred a broader discussion about whether college is even worth the investment given that 50 percent of last year’s graduating class is either unemployed or underemployed hitting the streets. There is certainly much concern as our economy struggles to recover, but cutting back on our investment in a college education is absolutely the wrong direction for this country. If we are not careful, our exemplary higher education system will fall from global prominence in much the same way as our merchant fleet slipped from its position as first in the world.