Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Human Capital Gap

For all the talk about the failures of our public schools to get kids prepared for college, it's kind of easy to forget that even kids who are qualified may not be able to go. According to a report released by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the cost of college is increasing to the point where it's going to become more and more of a luxury, even without a recession.

According to the report, from 1982 to 2007 the median family income rose by 147%. During that same time, the cost of attending college skyrocketed 439%! That's almost three times as high. The cost of attending a four year public college eats up 28% of the median family income while attending private college would drain 76% of that income. The way that things are going, it's looking like it may not matter how well we prepare kids to be ready for college. If they can't afford to go, they won't. And then where will we be?

Robert Reich correctly points out that for all the billions we're spending bailing out various sectors of our economy, we're not focusing our attention on the human capital that will drive our economy forward in the future.

I've frequently said that we should set up a system in this country whereby tuition to state colleges is paid for for all qualified students who enroll. That payment could come in the form of tax credits or just outright payments to the schools. I know that the costs of such a program would probably be staggering. But what's the cost of making college a luxury that few can afford? How much are we really willing to pay for that?

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