Monday, October 10, 2011

The Anti-G.I. Bill

Star Tribune letter writer Paul Perkal of Robbinsdale made a keen observation in today's paper:

Things have changed since the last century

It just occurred to me, after hearing about yet another student with a debt of well more than $100,000, that the situation is almost exactly the opposite of that during the days of the G.I. Bill. Then, returning vets were able to get sizable subsidies for higher education, and that often resulted in better careers and better lives for their families.

These days, intelligent young people are out of work (or way underemployed) for long stretches. Their college debts are way beyond the size of a down payment on a house, and the law prevents them from renegotiating, deferring or discharging these debts through bankruptcy. Basically, they're indentured servants, except without work.

I think this is one reason our economy is shot. Surely we can come up with a way to allow former students to manage this debt.
I read a book a few years ago (can't remember the name of it for the life of me, though) that discussed how student debt was influencing, or even corrupting, the career decisions of young people, leading them to parasitic jobs on Wall Street or to become ambulance-chasing lawyers.  These days, all too often former students can't find jobs at all, or at least not ones that have a career path (do you want fries with that?).

Neither outcome is good for these young people or in our country's long-term interest, and I can't help wondering how hard it would be for this country to make higher education available at no cost to a much wider range of students. It's a question of priorities.

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