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Is higher education a right?

Earlier this week it happened. Officially. American's student debt burden passed the one TRILLION dollar mark, according to FinAid.org -- which has a clock running on the site. The average student graduates college with $24,000 in loans. But for many of them, that's just a drop in the bucket.

College costs are rising 8-10 percent a year. Graduates are facing an economy with 8 percent unemployment. Employers are demanding college degrees as a bare minimum. This issue is even gaining traction in the presidential campaign. So we had a conversation with Robert Reich -- former labor secretary, current Berkeley professor and author of "Beyond Outrage" -- and Neal McCluskey, associate director of Cato's Center for Educational Freedom.

The conversation between the two guests revealed it's not a simple matter of "yes" or "no" to government student aid. Take a listen to the full half-hour interview we had with Reich and McCluskey to hear their takes on the "right" to higher education, what caused college to become so expensive and potential solutions to the financial aid system.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.
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just a comment on Mr. McCluskey's repeated statements about high rates of failure to complete 2yr or 4 yr degrees. He carefully qualified the students he was talking about as "first-time full-time" students at Community Colleges - so his percentages don't represent all students, only those at Community Colleges and only those who are full-time. Many serious students are working their way through Community Colleges and are only part-time students. With respect to percentage of Community College students completing 4-yr degrees....a major part of Community College enrollment is in programs that are SUPPOSED to terminate in 2-yr degrees....like certifications in para-education, in certain technical fields like computer-operated machine tools, etc. It seemed to me that he was creating a scary "straw man" argument. I don't disagree that there are inefficiencies in higher ed. I just disagree with the way McCluskey makes his case, and I tend to think that people who resort to that kind of sophistry can't make a good argument on the un-exaggerated merits of their case.

McClusky was on the mark. After 30 years I go back to my two state univerities to see massive building has taken place. Enrollment is virtually unchanged. Research labs and researchers are the focus. Administrators are compensated and have perks like corporate executives. Students, especially undergraduates, are an afterthought. All of the building, research and out of control pay are some of the inefficiencies McClusky mentioned. Some of Prof. Reich comments tended to be idealistic and naive. He means well, he just doesn't understand the root driving forces of money and influence.

As a recent graduate I find this conversation to be a little out of touch with reality. The unfortunate reality is that "higher education" is an investment because you are buying a piece of paper (diploma) that will get you a higher paying job. I had a lot of adults tell me to go to college for your passion.....and that is ignorant (unless you are getting your PhD). The only potentially useful undergraduate degree could come from the STEM fields...and even then, those skills would be better acquired from a technical school. To put it bluntly, higher ed is (usually) not worth what you get out of it.

I am actually starting to believe that higher education is killing creativity, engineering, and entrepreneurship in the US. No one wants to learn anything or make anything...instead "education" is served on the same platter and everyone is eating the same thing....most people who excel are in the service industry where persistence is key...and in the end that is all you need to get a degree.

I will agree that higher education is seriously messed up in this country (the US). The cost is ludicrous considering what you take away .....and the social status of such a diploma is completely unwarranted. In the end I think a degree is another method for employers to weed out people who are not dependable or motivated....after all those are the only 2 attributes needed to get a degree...intelligence is not required.

Educate high school juniors about financial aid. How to determine amount needed. Length of time
to payback, amount of payments, & the impact on future buying power. Financial aid is not only for college students. High schools, colleges, etc. should require general financial education. Colleges, etc. should offer financial counselling. Financial aid is a benefit to the nation (educated employees). It is a negative (limits purchasing power).

A wonderful idea! However, the majority of the students who really need this education (those who will be first-generation in their families to go to college, and whose families are virtually financially illiterate) are usually in "warehouse" high school courses of study. If you don't believe me, just look at any recent figures on innumeracy. The preparation for the kind of courses that Verly quite rightly recommends needs to start in 5th -6th grade....where I recommend putting dollar signs in front of EVERY arithmetic problem for those 2 year, so kids become aware that mastering arithmetic actually has a real benefit for them.

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