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Amy Traub

For the First Time In Our History, The Next Generation Will Be Less Educated

It's no secret that today a college degree is increasingly necessary to access the American middle class. Better educated people tend to earn more and pay more taxes, while a well-educated workforce is crucial to the nation's international competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world.

Across the political spectrum, most of us agree with this. No matter what their political stripe, most politicians at least pay lip service to the importance of education. But that's about as far as the consensus goes.

The ideology of the right tells us that if we cut public investment and just stand back to let the market do its magic, prosperity and well-being are sure to follow. In the realm of higher education policy, this approach has brought us dramatic cuts in student aid , four years of frozen Pell Grants for low-income students (with a fifth frozen year proposed in the president's 2007 budget), and reduced funding for public colleges and universities in many states.

The results? Just look at the title of the blog post. As the New York Times reported Thursday, "For the first time in our history, the next generation will be less educated." Reporting on a new study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the Times notes that:

-"While other nation's have significantly improved and expanded their higher education systems, the United States' higher education performance has stalled since the early 1990's"

-"For most American families, college is becoming increasingly unaffordable"

-As a result, today's young people are "lagging educationally compared to the baby boom generation."

The study, which evaluated higher education in each state individually as well as providing a national picture, also found that:

-The proportion of family income needed to pay net college costs (after accounting for all student financial aid) at public four-year colleges has grown from 28% to 42% in Ohio; from 24% to 37% in New Jersey.

-The likelihood of a 9th grader enrolling in college four years later is less than 40%; and that likelihood has decreased from 44% to 32% in Hawaii; from 46% to 35% in Vermont; and from 45% to 37% in New York.

-Since the early 1980s, the rate of increase in the price of college has far outstripped price increases in other sectors of the economy, even health care. Over these years, median family income increased by 127%; college tuition and fees by 375%

So much for our shared commitment to higher education.

But do progressives have any better ideas? We do, and it's very simple: invest more in higher education. Help more young people afford college. Make paying for college less of a deal with the devil, where many degrees come with decades of debt. The Reverse the Raid on Student Aid Act is one concrete step towards these goals.

Amy Traub: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:03 AM, Sep 10, 2006 in Economic Opportunity | Education | Federal Budget | Middle-class squeeze | Politics | Progressive Agenda | States
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