Echoing the comments made by former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis took to the Clinton Global Initiative stage today to talk about America’s need — and apparent inability — to make enough investments in human capital. She pointed towards the Obama administration’s commitment to community colleges, which she called the “rapid, ready-response institutions” of America, but said that the real problem is tuition at four-year colleges:
The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of young people, young adults, that don’t have the financial ability to enter into a four-year university or, say, a tailored program that could take them even out of poverty. The President just recently talked about making an investment, $12 billion, in community colleges. And community colleges are kind of the rapid, ready-response institutions that allow for a broader group of people to enter into, say, very specified business training that they need. [...]
That’s one step in the right direction, but we need to also continue that and allow for four-year universities to make their tuition more available so that more people can go…I think we miss the boat if we don’t really talk about trying to spread that wealth, that educational opportunity.
The ever-increasing cost of tuition at higher education institutions is a serious problem, with a serious detriment of ideas for how to deal with it. In addition to the average debt load of $23,186 that today’s typical student borrower accrues, the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey shows that 47 percent of full-time students are now working more than 20 hours a week (which is the recommended maximum), a number which goes above 50 percent for most underrepresented racial or ethnic groups.
The Lumina Foundation estimates that the American economy will face a shortage of 16 million college educated workers by 2025, and “the United States may not only be losing ground compared to other countries, but also in relation to its own population,” as the projected 13 percent increase in college enrollment over the next ten years would occur at a time when the U.S. population is increasing by 14 percent.
The government can increase student aid each and every year, but it won’t mean much unless the rate of increase in tuition can be reined in, as it makes little sense to have aid simply spiral out of control alongside tuition. And in the end, our future economic competitiveness depends on us finding solutions to these problems.