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The generation gap and the education crisis

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I think one thing that fuels the current dysfunctions of higher education in this country is the extent to which older people — and especially university administrators and faculty — have lost touch with how basic shifts in the American economy have left young people in a vastly worse position than they themselves were at similar points in their lives.

I graduated from college in 1982, in the middle of what would turn out to be the worst post-WWII recession until the current mess. But I had no debt, because I went to an excellent public university that charged very low tuition. This, I realize in retrospect, made a huge difference in regard to my psychic as well as economic health. A few years later I went to a top state law school for not exactly free, but for a low enough price that I could earn the total cost of tuition from summer jobs. Today if I had done exactly the same thing I would be graduating with easily six figures of non-dischargeable educational debt at 7.5% interest.

All this is just part of a bigger picture involving very fraught questions of generational equity (The basic policy of the federal government for most of the past 30 years has been to pass on the costs of everything to people who weren’t yet old enough to vote. The student loan crisis may be a sign that strategy is running up against some limits).

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