As soon as the White House announced its latest initiative to forgive student loans at the end of last month, critics and supporters began to weigh. Some have argued that burdening Americans with a whopping $ 1.7 trillion in student debt has made it impossible for many to buy housing. families and help the economy grow. Others responded that the loan was a loan and that the government should not be concerned with rescuing adults who had made commitments that they understood perfectly well.. There is no doubt that student debtors need help: almost one in three current students already think they will never repay their loans, and unlike other types of debt, student loans cannot be forgiven through bankruptcy, which means they will probably continue forever.
Although there may be room for some form of debt relief, this is not a long-term solution. If you really want to fix student debt, you have to fix college. How? By reducing costs, offering more course work that the labor market actually needs, and drastically improving results. Students need to earn degrees faster and personalize their learning to achieve both their academic and professional goals. Traditional universal curricula are no longer relevant in this economy – and employment figures confirm this.
Two statistics illustrate the state of our current higher education sector. According to the National Center for Education, the cost of college attendance increased by a staggering 169% between 1980 and 2020, while the income of Americans aged 22 to 27 increased by a far more modest 19%. For most Americans, this meant taking on debt – and often ending up without the skills to pay it off. Which brings us to the second statistic: last year, in a survey of recent two- and four-year college graduates, 21 percent said their colleges didn’t provide them with the right work skills, and 38 percent said they used the skills occasionally or infrequently. who have learned. Half did not apply for entry-level jobs because they felt insufficiently qualified.
Simply put, colleges charge much more than the employment performance they are likely to produce. And that doesn’t even count the 38 percent of students who won’t graduate, often with debts but no degree. Education was the great equalizer; to be again, we need to require colleges to demonstrate a clear return on investment.
To do this, we need to adopt technology – not just to reduce the cost of college, but also to ensure that what we teach leads to real success in the labor market. There is a model for this. During the global COVID-19 pandemic, colleges around the world developed an online or hybrid academic experience that provided at least basic educational needs while ensuring that their students remained connected and informed. As evidenced by data from more than a decade, digital learning works because it allows greater access to academic resources at much lower cost and with increased personalization.
Today, the majority of students – on average 25 or older, are already employed, usually women and often parents – have to switch between learning and earning. Online and hybrid models offer the flexibility that many students need to combine education, work and family life. A recent study by the American Psychological Association confirms this; most respondents said they appreciated not only the flexibility of digital learning, but also its diverse set of resources and teaching methods.
But if “how” is one question, “what” is another – and that “what” is more skill than the real world. Research shows that the main reason students go to college is to find a good job. College degrees would make much more sense if graduates could compete in an increasingly global and highly digital economy. This does not mean that every college should become a coding training camp. Rather, they need to step up learning in the digital space, such as distance collaboration, multi-source research and real-time project evaluation.
We are seeing more and more that employers value higher education less and less. We need to change this by allowing young Americans to personalize their education in order to acquire skills that will build real careers. Otherwise, we are simply dooming them to high costs in college education, which many students may not use and cannot pay for.
The richest, greatest country in the world needs more than just debt forgiveness; there is a need for a new deal for students to ensure that we can continue to compete.
Dan Rosensweig is the CEO of the educational technology company Chegg