Currently, Americans have more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. While some politicians are exploring why education comes at such a high cost, one often overlooked reason for the pricy tuitions is that colleges go into massive debt themselves. Across the country, schools are borrowing money from educational loan companies, no different than their students, reports The Nation.
Yes, the same private entities that make a killing off of student loan debt are loaning money and charging interest to the universities these students are attending as well. It’s a smart – if not totally unscrupulous – business move, too, since the schools then hike tuition costs to cover their own expenses, thus increasing the amount that students must borrow. It’s a vicious cycle with one clear victor: Wall Street.
This debt cycle would make at least a little bit of sense if the money were going toward improving the standard of education at the colleges. However, according to research by the University of California-Berkeley’s Debt & Society Project, the huge amounts that schools are borrowing are rarely applied to education, teaching, or even maintaining existing campus buildings. Throughout all institutions, only about 25% of borrowed money is designated toward instruction or expenditures related to instruction.
Instead, the money is allocated to new sports stadiums and state-of-the-art dormitory buildings. These non-essential “improvements” are meant to beautify campuses and make them cooler, not make their students smarter or more prepared for the workforce. In many cases, colleges consider these amenities an investment in their own brand. By offering luxuries and flashy buildings, they can charge more for students to attend, regardless of the value of the education.
If you assume that this debt problem applies to only costlier, private institutions, think again. Public schools are far from immune: students attending public universities today have twice the debt that students attending a decade ago accrued. For-profit colleges are perhaps the worst deal of all. In addition to sending their students into debt, many of these schools are charged with providing thoroughly inadequate educations to their pupils.
Ultimately, the constant frills and facelifts colleges implement for themselves only helps to further widen the inequality gap. Students in search of a topnotch education can no longer afford a tuition that includes unnecessary “perks” as part of a package deal. Higher education should not only be accessible to students with wealthy parents… or those who are willing to go into lifelong debt to pay for the privilege of learning alongside the elite.
We can’t continue to criticize poor people for not getting an education to improve their career opportunities when an education is not actually accessible or affordable to them. Moreover, we can’t continue to criticize poor people for living outside of their means when we force them to pay for sports stadiums and luxury housing just to get a college degree that people will respect.
It’s heartbreaking to realize how much student loan debt has nothing to do with educating future generations of Americans. The more that universities turn into summer camps for rich kids, the worse this problem will get.