It has become obvious that America’s smartest investors are not the ones wheeling and dealing on Wall Street, but those that spend their time in class and staying up late writing papers at universities and community colleges. These investors are gaining something more valuable than any share or derivative could: They are investing in themselves.
America is losing its competitive edge on this front at an alarming rate. Researchers point out that America stands as one of the only industrialized nations where the older generation is actually more educated than the 25- to 34-year-old age bracket. A recent report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education projects that the problem will only get worse.
Take the change in tuition and fees from 1982 to 2007. In that quarter century the average cost of attending college rose 439 percent, while at the same time median household income rose only 147 percent. Imagine if this growth were to continue for the next 25 years. For GW’s class of 2032, a student would have to shell out roughly $231,000 per year for a grand total of $924,000 for four years.
There is pretty much no chance GW will ever charge tuition this high, but the situation remains extremely concerning. America rose to prominence largely because of our emphasis on education. The picture that is forming is not great – a country where the population can no longer afford to invest in their own capabilities. This is especially true for the poor. Put it together with globalization allowing competition and development at speeds never thought possible, and you have a perfect storm of economic decline in our future.
So what do we do? Policy makers need to take notice quickly. After charging ad hoc bailouts to inefficient companies on a bill to be paid by their children, they have a responsibility to ensure a large portion of this is spent on something other than Hummers or houses. They need to invest in revamping our education system and allowing people with the determination and intelligence for a degree to pay for it.
Education invariably has one of the highest returns of any investment – arguably the highest. The average graduate with a bachelor’s degree will make about $1 million more than somebody without any college education. That is a million dollars more production per person on average. If a government initiative enabled another 10 percent of our over 153 million-person workforce to obtain a degree, America would produce an extra $15.3 trillion during their careers. That would be the equivalent of adding an extra year of work or paying the national debt off almost twice.
Although we here at GW like to believe we are the victims of the meteoric rise of tuition prices, it’s nothing compared what the future looks like for coming generations. Something needs to be done to abate this problem now; University President Steven Knapp is to be commended for making cost of attendance a priority.
If the government doesn’t step up to the plate, then universities will have to do something on their own. Just because we are the first generation less educated than the one previous doesn’t mean we have to be dumber investors than our predecessors.
The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.