What Happened?

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debt moneyWhen I was a senior in 1979, student debt wasn’t much of a problem at Michigan State University.

Tuition was $24.50 a credit, rent in student housing was in the $200 per month range for a room in a rundown house off campus with a couple of your best friends as roommates, gasoline was about 90 cents a gallon, and beer was cheap.

No one even thought of setting fires to couches after sporting events, in part because most students were too stoned to get off one. Pot was selling for about $25 an ounce (you’d have to ask Justin Bieber what the going rate is now), and the “War on Drugs” had yet to begin.

There wasn’t a war on much of anything back then, except for the Iranian hostage crisis, and that other war against disco fought at Comiskey Park (watch it on youtube at www.ittybittyurl.com/1kuI), but I digress.

Back then, the only students who had to deal with large amounts of tuition debt were the ones going to law school and medical school. Everyone else I knew had a handle on repaying their student loans or didn’t have any loans to pay off.

So what the hell happened? The facts are staggering:

• Tuition at Michigan State is currently $428.75 a credit, a 1,750 percent increase from 1979, and other state schools are no better.

• State support of Michigan State has fallen 17 percent since the 2008-2009 school year, and that difference has to be made up somewhere.

• Federal student loan debt topped $1 trillion last week, and the interest rate on any new college loans are on the rise.

• Average student loan debt is $27,547, and the graduates of the class of 2012 face 13.3 percent unemployment.

• Almost 17 percent of men and 10.4 percent of women 25-34 years old moved back into their parents’ home.

Against those odds, college enrollment has managed to increase 138 percent since I was a freshman 40 years ago, and the number of students applying for loans increased 30 percent in the last six years.

The way things are heading, college will only be affordable to the 1 percent.

In 1973, high school graduates in my hometown of Flint had choices: college or getting into business or a trade or working at an assembly plant.

In 2013, a high school graduate finds limited choices. Manufacturing jobs have gone overseas and, unless you’re lucky enough to have a family business to fall into, it’s difficult to get a job as a barista, or a server, or in retail — if your main competition is a college grad with a degree in philosophy.

At least you’re 18 years old and living in your parent’s basement, not 22 years old, thousands of dollars in the hole and moving back into your parent’s basement.

But something is seriously wrong when our student loan debt is higher than our credit card debt, and the answer isn’t to raise the limit.

We’re facing crises from all fronts, and we can’t consider ourselves the greatest nation on Earth with the greatest opportunity for becoming wealthy when it’s becoming difficult for college graduates to come out of universities with a degree that will land them good jobs in careers that have futures, and to do so without drowning in a sea of student loan debt.

The days of graduating high school, landing a factory job for 30 years and having a home, a couple of cars, a couple of kids, a cottage and a boat Up North are gone.

Higher education is a necessity, and we need to find a way that necessities aren’t out of our price range.

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