What’s driving this debt crisis is a vicious cycle of bad lending policies eerily similar to the causes of the subprime mortgage crisis. Over the past 50 years, it has become conventional wisdom that everyone should go to college. High school guidance counselors and college admissions offices preach it, parents believe it and politicians cater to it. With near-universal demand and parents willing to pay or borrow almost anything to get their son or daughter through college, colleges and universities can drive up their prices.
When tuition prices rise, the government subsidizes the difference by increasing federal loans. But these easy loans, many of which are increasingly going to middle-class students, only increase the price ceiling that colleges can charge, thus completing, or starting, the cycle.
Of course, these aren’t the only problems in today’s higher education financial crisis. Many colleges and universities are failing at their most basic responsibility: education. Students are graduating ill-equipped for the needs of the modern workforce. More than half of all college graduates in 2010-11 were unemployed or dramatically underemployed. Many employers rate college graduates today as unprepared or only somewhat prepared for the job.