Higher education is in very serious trouble. And its problems are not something that can be solved quickly, or without serious changes to the way that the system works. Higher education, which for years has been trusted to educate the country's young people, has reached the climax of a decades-long transformation from a system of intellectual exploration and learning, where degrees were measurements of achievement and creative thought was valued and fostered to a system modeled after corporations, fraught with grade inflation and worthless degrees, focused on career paths and earning as much money as possible.
Today, these problems threaten the long-term viability of an institution that has long been relied upon to increase the well-being of the citizenry, strengthen democracy and ensure the long-term economic health of the country. Higher education, long the path for people to climb the class ladder, is increasingly being commodified, and its access restricted. Will this trajectory continue or will higher education go back to its foundation: the relationship between students and professors and the pursuit of knowledge?
In the last ten years, tuition and fees increased 66 percent beyond inflation at public four-year institutions and 26 percent beyond inflation at private not-for-profit institutions. Nationwide, total student debt has surpassed one trillion dollars and the average student with debt owes about $26,600 each. Why has there been such an increase?