Alleviating the Stress of Higher Education Expense

Total student debt is around one trillion dollars, yet only thirty-eight percent of borrowers are paying back on their loans – there is a problem with the system.[1] I think there are two ways to alleviate this stress on our economy and people. First, fix the system. Administrators step in to find ways to curb runaway increases in private and public college expenses, make colleges accountable (similar to what they do with our pre-college education system), educate parents and students about careers and the probability of landing a job after graduating with a degree, and embrace new technologies that offer low-cost alternatives to building skills (MOOCs and online badges)[2]. They use federal aid to influence higher education institutions. Second, change the consumer. College students should lower the cost of earning a degree, find alternative ways to build skills, and enter college mature and ready for their impactful decision to earn a degree. There is some overlap between fixing the system and changing the consumer.

Expense of Higher Education
Expense of Higher Education

I champion the idea of building a skill set using the most cost-efficient and effective way (as I talk about with a skills-based approach). Earning a college degree is a requirement for many professions, and has been something our high school graduates aspire to for a long time. But perhaps there are ways to make earning a college degree less expensive. The president of our country said,

 ..(consider) testing new approaches to shorten the path to a degree and blending teaching with online learning.2

Some ideas include: encouraging high school students to earn AP credits towards a degree, taking online or community college courses to earn credits at less expensive rates, use alternative ways of learning skills (MOOCs and online badges), and maximize the learning experience of a degree (if you are paying for a four-year degree, then get a double major – increase your marketability when you finish).

I still think there are viable options of building skills without necessarily earning a degree; MOOCs, Mozilla online certifications, professional certifications, and apprenticeships might transform how professionals build skills. There are a growing number of professions that are best learned through on the job experience and training. For example, a graphic designer takes a few classes and learns Adobe Photoshop and is prepared to design websites. Are the elective and core classes from a college degree relevant? It is becoming debatable because of the exorbitant cost of a degree.


[1] Rebekah Bell, “It’s Possible to Graduate Debt-Free. Here’s How,” Wall Street Journal, July 23rd 2013.

[2] David Wessel, “Four Ideas for Fixing Higher Education,” Wall Street Journal, July 24th 2013.

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