During all the pomp and circumstance of my high school graduation, there was always one question that I could be counted on being asked: where are you going to college? It was assumed since I was the salutatorian, college would naturally be in my future because the prevailing wisdom is that a college education will lead to a higher paying job. It was essentially implied that the next step for all us was college. The concept and, quite honestly, the expectation of a collegiate career was placed on us beginning our sophomore year of high school. We had college fairs and took mandatory ACT and SAT tests. Some of my other classmates who were not as academically inclined discussed how they would be going to junior college so that they could eventually make their way to a traditional 4-year university. All armed with the knowledge that a degree will make our lives better and a degree will be the key to higher paying jobs and greater opportunities in life.
I hope you understand the picture that I am painting here. The concept of ‘higher education is best’ has continued on to our present. Now eighteen-year-olds are told to go to college to get an MBA in order to start a business! Despite most schools having a trade school program, it is still expected and pushed that one go to college. Young people, including myself, are taught to venerate adults with titles such as ‘guidance counselor’ in high school and college to help direct our lives. Every piece of wisdom passed on involved higher education, that there was somehow a glass ceiling that could only be broken by that wonderful “college degree.” So we go. We took out loans or got federal financial aid. We worked hard, studied, got part time jobs and got that degree. But then the inevitable happened and reality set in.
The problem was that we were lied to, and young people continue to be lied to. And let it be said, government has increasingly become involved in higher education since I graduated in 2008 to an even greater degree than it was involved in 1978. The price of higher education has absolutely skyrocketed while the average salary merely moved at the rate of inflation. And when the government opened up a blank check book to higher education, the competition that drove high value degrees was destroyed. When government got involved in the college loan business it meant that they let in anybody and everybody, and the amount of useless degrees increased. After being told that having a degree would unlock career opportunities, is it any surprise that a generation saddled with massive amounts of student loan debt working in minimum wage jobs is jumping at student loan forgiveness?
While we have a plethora of good solutions to this problem, as conservatives we need to start communicating them with more compassion and understanding. This is yet another example of how big government and progressive candidates (*cough* Obama) have meddled and promised false hope to a younger generation. In turn, these young generations create a relationship with government based on victimhood and therefore wouldn’t balk at the concept of another progressive (*cough* Biden) promising freedom from debt. As Republicans, we need to take hold of these examples and unite the individuals instead of scorning them for falling prey to government ethos. It has been said that millennials are more prone to being creative (they are, after all, the generation who has figured out how to monetize the art of influence) but they are so riddled with debt that they are unable to start the business or invent the next big thing. As believers in the capitalistic spirit we should be uniting around these individuals and enlightening them on how they are being held down by the chains of bureaucracy and that more bureaucratic solutions are not in fact good solutions at all. Instead of attacking the people who have gotten duped into this duplicitous pyramid scheme, we should come alongside them. We need to point to the source of the issue, government, and not disenfranchise the people who are merely trying to do their best to live their lives and succeed. Let us combine the facts with empathy and come alongside the millennials, Gen Z and generations to come.