While discussing his ideas regarding college affordability, the New York Times quoted Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, as arguing that we cannot continue to denigrate blue-collar jobs and workers. He flipped this into a sound argument—college is not for everyone. Although this argument is legitimate, Rubio went on to criticize the trend of college-bound students “[borrowing] a bunch of money to get that degree” when they might be happy with a job not requiring a degree. This is where Rubio and others must tread very carefully.
Some people do not need to get a college degree. No one could argue against that point. However, if the motivation to not get a college degree is purely economic, that is a problem. This is the problem we face in America today, and it is one that should motivate us to look at how to make college affordable, not how to slot potential-students into other positions. Trying to argue, “people don’t realize how much welding can pay” as an example of the sort of blue-collar alternative to a degree-requiring job young people should be seeking ignores the actual problem altogether and provides a Band-Aid solution.
In recent years, college costs have spiraled out of control. Room and board alone now can cost tens of thousands of dollars. To cover the escalating costs, students often take out loans—both federal and private—and shackle themselves to debt. According to the piece, Rubio himself did not pay off his $100,000 student loans until 2012. Rubio and his colleagues are correct—college is unaffordable. However, their proposed solution is a disgrace. If potential students, those who dream of college and careers in law, social service, or any other degree-requiring field, instead choose to forego post-secondary education due to the unaffordability of college, the system has failed.
Rubio and others are looking at the wrong side of this problem. College needs to come down in cost. How this nation achieves that goal should be the topic of debate. Other nations, such as Germany, provide tuition-free education to their citizens and residents. Bringing this point up in a room of Republicans would surely draw jeers and cries of socialism. However, aside from the comical reaction to the notion of including socialist principles in American economics (which already occurs), all options should be on the table.
Attention must be focused on finding a solution to the cost of a college education, not finding an alternative for those who cannot afford college. In America, we should not have potential students resorting to careers for which they have no passion, simply because college has become astronomically expensive.
Furthermore, their argument is not persuasive. Racking up tremendous levels of debt is a frightening prospect, but trying to convince a college-bound student to take up welding—as Rubio suggested—instead of accruing debt for a college degree and for a career that they desire, is hopeless. The lure of college and the societal push for a degree are simply too strong. For most, the cost-benefit analysis goes only so far as the short-term. While Rubio correctly pointed out that some students choose college and debt when they would be happy with another career path, that argument cannot be used to ignore the need to bring down the cost of education in America.
This nation needs, as it always has, a spread between the white and blue collar working spheres. To force, through societal norms or otherwise, high school students to attend college and take on debt, ignores this reality. Without blue-collar jobs, this nation’s economy would come to a halt. However, without the ability to achieve dreams and aspirations, the soul of this nation would crumble. Regardless of the dream—whether it is to be a police officer, chef or a chemical engineer—we need the capacity to at least attempt to achieve that which we desire. Stopping potential college students at the door, telling them college is too expensive so you should look elsewhere—is failing the future. We cannot steer students to alternative careers due to the rising cost of colleges. We can—and should—pressure colleges and universities to consider affordability to be the highest priority. As for the government, we must find a way to fix the flawed college loan system, so that students are not crushed by the very loans they took out in the hopes of attaining something more.