August 10, 2022

The pursuit of higher education has been an integral step in achieving the American Dream since James Truslow Adams coined the phrase in 1931. He defined the American Dream as the hope for “a better, richer and happier life for all our citizens of every rank.” Collectively, though, people in the United States have racked up $1.7 trillion in debt on this step alone.

Data tells us that, for some, a college degree is one means to this end. Over the course of a lifetime in the same career, a worker with a bachelor’s degree can earn roughly $1 million more than a worker with a high school diploma as their highest educational attainment. That earnings gap grows significantly with every advanced degree, but that long-term financial gain comes with a price tag that could take close to a lifetime to pay off.

America’s current student debt crisis is inextricably linked to legislation, social norms, and macroeconomic trends of the last half-century. Still, 43 million people in the U.S. have made the trade-off between carrying tens of thousands of dollars in federal student loans for higher earning potential down the road.

Decades of tax cuts to state funding for higher education have resulted in tuition hikes at both public and private institutions. Since 2000, the average cost of college per student has tripled to $35,720 per year. These exorbitant costs have outpaced currency inflation, leading to increasing debt loads and stagnant wages…

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