For the soldiers who returned home after World War II and the Baby Boom generation that followed, the promise of college was simple. It would take hard work, but a four-year degree would open the door to better paying jobs and a better life.
Tuition, books and room and board were affordable. That didn’t keep college students in the 1960s and ’70s from being poor, of course. But we could be certain of a payoff for sticking with our studies.
Not so much, today. President Barack Obama gave University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill students plenty of what they wanted to hear during a campaign visit Tuesday. He wants to freeze student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent. Otherwise, they’ll jump to 6.8 percent on July 1, under an agreement passed by Congress in 2007.
But even if the president is successful, paying for college in 2012 is considerably more difficult than what many of us faced 30 or 40 years ago. What’s worse, the golden promise of what a college education can do for a young person isn’t nearly as solid as it once proved to be.
A story in USA Today this week found that more than 53 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 are either unemployed or woefully underemployed. Without high-paying jobs, those debts will haunt many graduates for much of their lives.
Freezing student loan interest rates would be a start, but making college affordable and a sure path to a good job is an elusive dream this century.