Posted August 27, 2013 at 8:00 am, in From the USW International President
Right now, eager 18-year-olds from across the country are Tweeting with bravado photos of their newly postered dorm rooms and scanning with private fear their freshmen class schedules. They’re embarking on a journey to capture their piece of the American Dream.
They’ll get a little help from economical e-textbooks and new-fangled apps that manipulate molecular models. But such technology is no match for the forces aligned against today’s young people – those in college as well as working class teens who dream of a degree but never enroll because they can’t conceive of paying the breathtaking – and for them, heartbreaking – costs.
To expand access to the dream, President Obama announced last week that he intends to grade colleges, just as colleges grade students. The U.S. Department of Education will evaluate the affordability of schools based on tuition, scholarships and financial aid. The department will look at outcomes including graduation rates, employment and salaries. Ultimately, Obama would like to reward colleges that earn good grades – those that graduate more students at lower costs. He proposes to do that by giving students who attend colleges with the best ratings larger federally guaranteed student loans. And he wants to encourage states to resume proper funding for public institutions. The idea is to restore equal opportunity to attain the American Dream.
The parents and grandparents of today’s 18-year-olds witnessed diminishing access to the dream. When they were teens, in the 1960s and 1970s, they could buy a year of college with three months’ labor in a factory or mill. Also, a summer in a mill with good union wages and benefits persuaded some that this was the life for them, no college necessary.
But too many mills are gone now, lost to government’s failure to enforce international trade regulations and to the corporate greed that swapped middle class wages for foreign sweatshop pittances. That means to attain the American Dream, even more youngsters now must get higher education or technical training.
And now, paying for that additional education is much more difficult. One of those old-time mill jobs – if it were still available – wouldn’t cover a year’s tuition now. Over the past three decades, the average tuition at a public four-year college increased more than 250 percent. Meanwhile, typical family income rose only 16 percent. (more…)