ARBOR WEALTH: The new collegiate landscape: Paying to play on campus

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 05:12 PM.

“So, OK, we cut landscaping this year.  What do we cut next year? OK, let’s stop cleaning the windows … Well, pretty soon you go from cutting fat to cutting meat and bone.” Kington relates that “even the most aggressive cuts will not be enough to close the gap between money coming in and financial aid going out.”

So Grinnell may provide less financial aid, and ask students to carry more in student loans. It’s the logical next step. However, more and more students are growing leery of entering a precarious job market while saddled with significant student loan debt. 

Student loan debt, unlike other forms of debt, cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. And there’s a mountain of it out there. “Americans owe more ($870 billion) on their student loans than on their credit cards ($693 billion) or car loans ($730 billion), according to a March, 2012 Washington Post article by Daniel de Vise entitled “College, Inc.”

Grinnell and other colleges may soon be forced to revise their admissions process, and ultimately admit a higher percentage of students who can pay their own freight. It’s a bottom line decision that few colleges, especially private schools, will be able to avoid in the future. 

This trend will create universities full of students who can pay their own way or borrow enough to pay. It will impact the diversity of student enrollment on campuses throughout the country. College will become more and more a privilege of the moneyed class.

So what’s wrong with that?

The problem is that we need a strong middle class, one that can include a college education for their children as part of their economic ethos. Consumer spending represents over 70 percent of American GDP and drives the U.S. economy. 

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