Since the economic collapse of 2008, there have been many articles and blogs written about the importance (or lack of importance) of attending higher education for young people.
This talk has taken place amid a backdrop of ever rising tuition costs, zero wage increases, artificially suppressed inflation, a boatload of student loan debt burdening the 18-22 year old cohort and the dim post-graduation employment prospects where an average job search takes 6-9 months.
Hope and change indeed.
All of these writers, bloggers and opinionaters on both sides of the debate have one thing in common: They all hail from middle to upper middle class households and backgrounds, where at least one parent (and in many cases both parents) have already attended college.
In particular, they hail from backgrounds where they grew up with the suburban (and in some cases ex-burban) comfort that at least if they graduated from an overpriced college with an undervalued education and an economically meaningless degree, that somehow, someway, it would all work out in the end.
Now, in principle, we here at HSCT have no problem with people carrying such assumptions and even acting on them in the real world.
We have no problem with people writing long, effusive, opinion pieces on the lack of efficacy of a college education and worrying about the debt attached to obtaining it, in the context of a world where student loan debt cannot be disgorged through a bankruptcy process.
We also have no problem with questioning why it is important for people to have college degrees and even the tenuous link between a college degree and economic success based in secure post-graduate employment.
Make no mistake, yes our background is in higher education, but we would be blind and foolish if we did not admit that there are real structural problems and cracks in the mighty edifice constructed since post-World War II.
We get off the train though, when we think about the “please take the college years and go off to ‘find yourself’” type advice, being given to minority high school students.
We have a problem when very well meaning, successful, wealthy people, who did not attain degrees, but attained a measure of success, stand in front of diverse audiences and make the audacious claim that can be summed up as “we didn’t go so you don’t have to either.”
We’re sorry, but too many folks in those diverse audiences come with backgrounds from racial minority groups in this country that have experienced systemic, institutionalized, historical racism. And some of those students’ backgrounds are from communities still experiencing the results of such racism, racialism and racial prejudice. Thus, some of the worst advice that they–as well as their younger brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews–can possibly hear is “don’t attend college, because it’s too expensive, too much student loan burden will be upon you at graduation, etc., etc.”
This is not a statement based in social justice, social re-engineering or any desire for any form of social gerrymandering.
This statement comes out of a recognition that more African-American males are in jail in this country than even have completed high school.
This statement comes out of a recognition that Hispanic, Asian and Eastern European populations have traditionally valued education as the only way to advance in America.
This statement comes out of the recognition that the only way to open the doors and unlock opportunities if you are not from an upper class or even a middle class structure, is through the hard work of education, monetary sacrifice, and doing the right thing for the most people possible.
Of course, when there have been three to four generations of racial, ethnic and class minorities that have attained college education in America, we will be the first to write all about how going to college is a fool’s bargain.