Chasing the American Dream
Kelly is a dear friend of mine. She worked hard all the way through college and graduate school, getting top grades.
After graduation, she came to realize that her Ph.D. had no value, she was buried in debt, and as a result, lost all passion for her profession. She thought she was following the American dream: going to college, becoming a Ph.D., and living happily ever after. That was certainly the direction everyone was pushing her: her parents, her teachers, and even her government, through an easy to obtain student loan program.
It breaks my heart.
Kelly is a vibrant and intelligent young woman. She tried to do everything right, but was channeled down the well-intended, but narrow-minded pathway of the student loan syndrome. Now for Kelly, the American dream seems out of reach.
She has no idea when, how, and if she will ever get out from under her mounds of student loan debt.
Likely, you know other young people like Kelly—members of the lost generation drowning in debt, while their whole life lies before them. They may be college graduates, but their life has been stripped of passion, buried beneath a mountain of debt with limited job opportunities.
The Student Debt Burden
Americans carry a bigger debt burden on student loans than on credit card and auto loans. Our country’s student debt bubble has surpassed $1.2 trillion dollars, leaving millions of people struggling to repay their debts while also not being able to afford the daily costs of living.
Should the price of education really be such a lifelong burden?
How can we remedy this massive economic bubble before it bursts?
On one hand, government-backed student loan programs are good things in that they enable more people to pursue a higher education. On the other hand, by artificially subsidizing loans, the government has allowed universities to drive four-year tuitions far beyond what an average family can actually afford. What’s more, college and advanced degrees are no longer guarantors of landing a desirable job.
It’s a frustrating cycle of buying into a dream, not seeing it materialize, and then getting stuck with a lifetime burden of loans for an impractical degree.
What a mess!
Furthermore, this system creates in our young people a mentality that education is free. You know how that is. The years until one has to start paying off their loan feels so far away. As a result, people are almost impulsively getting degrees, only to find that what they’ve been prepared for is not what they want to do with their life.
Even if it is what they want to do, those degrees have become so plentiful they can’t even get a job.
Hindsight is 20/20
How could this have been prevented? Broader vision. The well-intended ideal of making higher education available to everyone is lovely. However, the consequences, though unforeseen, are now glaring. Of course, there are those who insist the solution is to go even further by making higher education available to everyone for free—a lovely but narrow viewpoint. Pragmatics needs to be considered, and the long-term consequences of our actions need to be evaluated wisely.
Who is going to pay for that education? How much higher would that drive tuition? How many more devalued degrees can this nation withstand?
How many future generations do we want to enslave before their life has really even begun?
We are creating bubbles all over the place through narrow vision. Mortgage bubbles, fiscal bubbles, housing bubbles. Society has become a veritable bubble bath! The solution for all these bubbles is the same as the solution for all things in life.
Consciousness needs to be expanded. We must overcome limited thinking. Vision must be expanded. Good intentions must be tempered with rational thought.
A young person’s educational choices must be based upon thoughtful commitment rather than an impulsive following of the herd. Government programs must not be simplistic, but rather should consider the full spectrum of possible consequences. Pressures to channel all the nation’s young people down the same narrow path is poorly thought out at best. The diversity of possible life directions must be honored. Politicians promising to fix the student loan bubble must evaluate wisely, while considering all the consequences of their actions. Critical thought must replace oblivion.
As long as the government keeps ‘helping’ students, overall tuitions will continue to rise, creating an enslaved generation, drowning in debt.
We need to start electing government officials who have a broader grasp of the problem. Superficially, it sounds great: loan (or even give) everybody money so they can get an education. Saying such a thing can get a politician more votes if the public isn’t thinking very deeply. The question really boils down to how we can go about broadening the awareness, the depth of insight, in all of the people. To do so, things must be presented in a manner that makes sense.
What can you do? You can speak out, encouraging everyone to look deeper than the surface. It can’t just be an emotional appeal, nor can it be a purely intellectual argument full of statistics. For something to really make sense, it has to feel right deep in a person’s heart, while simultaneously making sense on the intellectual level.
Before you can be a part of making that change in our society, you have to first live it yourself. Is your perspective an emotional reaction? Or is it coming from the place of wisdom within you, where the heart and mind meet as one? First, take your time to think things through. Find that wisdom place within yourself. Formulate your perspectives based upon that place where the heart, mind, ideals, and pragmatics merge in full harmony with one and other, then speak from that place.
A Bale of Corn
At first glance, this may all seem obvious. But the following simple story illustrates how challenging that is for most people:
I was conducting a long weekend lecture series. At one point, I simply said that if you have one bale of corn available for all the people in a town, the price goes up. It is simple supply and demand. Of course, if there are bushels of corn all over the place, the corn becomes inexpensive. Everything is like that. College degrees are like that. The U.S. dollar is like that. Again, simple supply and demand.”
I thought that would be the end of it and we could move on. But the uproar in the room led to an emotional fervor that was beyond belief: “Everybody has the right to have some corn! What you are saying is terrible!” “That’s why we need stronger unions, so this sort of thing wouldn’t happen!” “For you to make a statement like that, you must be a Republican!” “This is why I hate politics! All the government officials should just go to jail.” “I don’t care for this at all! I just prefer to do positive thinking! Why do you have to be so negative?!”
Flabbergasted, I tried to calmly explain the point, but it only made people more furious: “All this money talk makes me sick! I hate money!” “That’s right. We should just do away with money and everything would be fine!” The intensity of emotion in the room was almost unbearable. For a second there, I just wanted to just get out of the room and likely, so did everybody else. This went on for what felt like hours. I would like to say we came to a final happy resolution, but we did not. There was no way people were going to come back into balance until we just dropped the subject.
This little story illustrates the magnitude of the challenge we have in correcting emotionally charged legislation regarding student loans. Of course, a completely unbridled ‘of, by, and for the money’ approach doesn’t work either.
So again, the intellect and the emotions have to become integrated. They need to work as one.
Starting a Movement
How to do this? Step one is to understand the problem and come to grips with it. As the story above so graphically illustrates, even that is not so easy to do. To actually live true to that understanding on a daily basis in a spontaneous and innate manner is even more challenging, and requires time and effort.
This is all done on an individual level.
Eventually, those individuals must speak out. Some will write articles like this one, some will participate in demonstrations, others may patiently discuss it with friends and associates, still others may become lobbyists, and so on. If enough people do this, in time, they will come together and create what is known as a movement. As that movement becomes strong, politicians will be forced to listen.
Of course, movements are confronted with opposition from the status quo. Clearly the path is not an easy one.
Everybody would like a pie-in-the-sky instant fix for this predicament we find ourselves in. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the truth is there is no quick fix. To transform our society takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight.
Society needs to sober up, one person at a time.
The question is, are you, for yourself, willing to take that first step?
I think at first glance, everybody thinks they’ve already done that. But you need to ask yourself, have you?
Have you really? And over and above that, would you then be willing to act as a beacon light to infuse sanity into a society that seems to have gone insane?
Author: Dr. Michael Mamas
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: hardtopeel at Flickr