This is the season when, after years of having their heads filled with ideas, ranks of graduates put on caps and gowns and contain their excitement long enough to hear a succession of speakers offer a few final insights before they step out into the future. Whatever the horizon looks like from beneath the mortarboard this year, two things are certain: the future is brighter with a college education and a college education is now so expensive that its financial obligations are likely to be a part of that future for a long time to come.
This year, students are graduating from college with an average debt of more than $25,000, and the aggregate debt for student loans nationally has topped $1 trillion. The student debt “crisis” prompted President Obama to issue executive orders earlier this month that include a cap on student loan payments at 10 percent of a borrower’s income and extends the repayment period to 20 years for up to five million borrowers. Meanwhile, in the US Senate, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is looking for ways around a Republican filibuster to reform student loan interest rates.
It is true that a generation of educated-but-indebted graduates are putting off buying homes, starting families, and otherwise getting on with the future while they attend to their nascent careers and the economics of “real life.” And a meme has emerged among bloggers and columnists that a college education just may not be worth it anymore, given all the opportunities these days for innovators with or without a degree. Think of all those “one percenters” who never went to college, right? The only problem with that proposition is that it is not supported by evidence.
Science magazine published an article last month by MIT economist David Autor, who examined income inequality in America and noted that despite media focus on the income gap between the top one percent and the rest of us, the biggest wage disparities are emerging between those who are educated and those who are not. The decision not to go to college, according to Dr Autor, costs students $500,000 in earnings over the course of a lifetime. It is a debt that is not paid in installments, but in persistent privation that exacts a steep price from individuals, families, and society.
Newtown invested $13,436.69 this year in the education of each of the Newtown High School graduates who picked up their high school diplomas Tuesday at the O’Neill Center at WestConn. As much as we argue as a community about the cost of schools as we assemble budgets, there is no arguing with the success embodied in the NHS commencement exercises. As a community, public education is our most important duty and our most gratifying achievement. Of all the ideas we have managed to fill their heads with since kindergarten, let us hope that one in particular sticks with the graduates: education enriches not only paychecks but entire lifetimes. With that final insight, we release the Class of 2014 to the future with our best wishes.