Seems as predicted, students are always amazed at how expensive undergraduate and graduate degrees are and how tough it has become for families to "afford" such high tuition rates. As I have complained now for years, "Why can banks borrow federal funds for next to nothing, but students from the middle and lower classes have to pay exorbitant rates just for the opportunity to obtain a higher education? Since when has America accepted the notion that our students are profit centers for the government and/or financial institutions?" Perhaps I am now "blue in the face" while making this argument. I mean, has anything been done to ease the burden our students face in paying higher and higher college and post-college tuition? And what risks are undertaken by lenders when student loans must be repaid (because virtually none may be extinguished via bankruptcy)?
According to virtually all sources, student loan debt now exceeds $1 Trillion! At what cost does this bring to American society? The economic costs are obvious. Students with overwhelming student loan debt must work to be free of the debt instead of working to accumulate assets, wealth and fulfillment previously taken for granted by earlier generations. Instead of graduating college or graduate school with a clear career path, instead of planning to acquire assets such as a home, furnishings, an auto and a "nest egg" for a new family, they are emotionally strapped with the anvil of debt around their necks. Can anyone dismiss the weighty burden debts have on all of us, let alone a young adult facing an uncertain employment future with a mass amount of student loan debt?
To add to this problem, increasingly changing factors in our economy are beginning to come more and more into play. It does not take a rocket scientist to appreciate that we are entering a new global Industrial Revolution and this one is based on the ever expanding segment known as technology. But technology has leapt forward in many ways other than those previously understood in economic terms. Yes, over the past 150 years, we have seen massive leaps in technology, yet the leaps we are currently experiencing will exponentially expand at a mind-bending rate. We all jokingly mention advances we expect in the medical realm - growing human body parts, implanting diagnostic instruments to monitor our health. We also kid about cars driving themselves and computers running our daily lives. But who is kidding whom? These advances are no longer "Pie in the Sky" notions, they are rapidly becoming reality. How many of us have sat down to contemplate what affect such advances will have on our modern society, and not just how we live, but also how we educate and work?
In the January 18, 2014 edition of The Economist, a focus article entitled "Coming to an Office Near You...What Today's Technology Will do to Tomorrow's Jobs," points out how unprepared all governments are for the existing and oncoming technology revolution, from an economic and educational perspective. As mentioned in the article, "The main way in which governments can help their people through this dislocation (from new technologies) is through education systems." But what if Americans cannot afford the cost of said education? What if the education system itself is deprived of the money it needs to evolve and accommodate cutting edge education for future American workers? What if educators continue to be so ignored as vital to our future that no one bothers to consider careers in education? I mean, who needs higher salaries for teachers or pensions to compensate them for accepting lower compensation for at least 25 years of service? As The Economist article points out, "schools themselves need to be changed to foster the creativity that humans will need to set them apart from computers. There should be less rote learning and more critical thinking." Hmm, I wonder where students might obtain critical thinking skills when governors like Florida Governor Rick Scott are determined to de-emphasize disciplines like English, Psychology, Sociology, and History? (see - http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2011/10/10/rick-scott-wants-to-shift-university-funding-away-from-some-majors/).
The gist of the article is to point out that with every industrial revolution, the "Capital Class", those with most of the wealth, have the best opportunity to cash in on cutting edge innovations, while the working classes lag behind as they slowly adapt to the ever-increasing changes to workplace technologies. With the anticipated expansion of the future inequality between the super wealthy and the working middle class, government must begin to play a more active role than ever before it leads to vocal disapproval, disappointment and active and open resistance (as any student of history can tell you). Couple financial hardship with educational constraints and a puzzling and twisted path to financial stability and you have a potent mix that leads inevitably to societal unrest. Knowing the wealthy class never voluntarily shares their wealth from opportunity, we must demand our government act sooner rather than later. As President John F. Kennedy once said; "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings." It's time to examine the realities of the impact the new technological revolution is having on us today and in the near future. It's therefore, also time for solutions and for action, because ready or not, the Tech revolution is here and now. Have a great week.