The College Affordability Crisis
What's at Stake?


The enormous ramifications—personal, national, social, and economic—of the college loan crisis are just now being widely and fully discussed. The consequences are serious for us all, whether or not we are paying back college loans for ourselves or our children.

Some have pointed, for instance, to the long-term effects on the national economy if vast numbers of future workers are paying off debt rather than purchasing goods and services. Others have discussed the effect that burdensome levels of debt may have on a future generation’s attitude toward taxation and support for public services.

In her most recent book, Degrees of Inequality, Suzanne Mettler discusses yet another very serious way in which the soaring level of college loan debt is much more than just a financial burden for individual students. It represents a sea change in what college actually means in our country. With millions of students for the first time in our nation’s history graduating worse off than when they started, we are watching college change from a pathway upward to a caste system with unequal tiers and students even more unequal after they graduate than when they started.

As Kathleen Geier argues, changing this harsh reality and averting this bitter future will require more than tinkering around the edges. Many of the solutions being proposed just aren’t going to do the trick.