Life, liberty and college loans

The Presidential Medal of Honor recipient Arthur Ashe once said, “When bright young minds can't afford college, America pays the price.”

And it looks like that price just keeps rising.

Over the last 30 years, the average price of a college education has increased over 250 percent. And with students entering one of the most challenging labor markets in recent memory, it was time for an alarm to go off in Washington.

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Today, the average college graduate is more likely to find a job that doesn’t even require a high school degree, and 2 in 3 Americans graduate college with some form of debt, with the average being $25,000 per graduate. All this while a recent poll found that over 40 percent of recent graduates feel that college did not prepare them for today’s market.

They have a point.

With the unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 24 at 16.2 percent, over twice the national average for all Americans, they should be angry.

While President Obama spent the week tackling the difficult subject of college loans, he has opened the door to a more serious question. What value does a college degree really provide?

The plan to create greater accountability to colleges is right. Ensuring that higher education is invested in the results of their students is not only smart, it is common sense. The proposed rating system presented by Obama would score colleges on loan debt, average tuition, and what graduates earn after getting their degree, thereby directing students to institutions that deliver better results. Any educated consumer would not only read ratings like these if they were available, they would rely on them to ensure they are making a better purchase decision. Especially when that purchase decision is something that over 15 percent of Americans find themselves still paying down after the age of 50.

Students today cannot afford to invest so much in a degree that does not give them at least an equal return. Transparency into the true value of one college degree over another will only motivate colleges to get better. It will motivate them to stop and think about the curriculum that they have in place. It will force them to re-consider the hiring decisions they make and the type of professors they place in the classroom. It will call on them to gather feedback from their current and past customers (students and alumni) in an effort to constantly improve the quality of the education they deliver. The essence of a free market cannot be realized if we have the very industry that educates us about it playing with a loaded dice.

Gone are the days where students are required to choose between only a few institutions to purchase their education. Technology and innovation have changed not only the way we are educated, but also the ease of access to alternate forms of educational content.  Pick up your iPhone and you can take one of hundreds if not thousands of courses that are available to you through iTunesU and online course sites that host online versions of popular courses offered for pay at schools like Stanford, Harvard, and other top Ivy league institutions.

Gone are the days where we look at students as children that are forced to ‘take it or leave it’ with regards to their education. Gone are the days where we can charge for an education that is not preparing our students for the market today. Let's turn a page to a new era in which we not only expect but grade the quality of the education being delivered by our institutions.

I applaud President Obama. I applaud his efforts to find a new way to ensure that colleges are accountable in this crisis that has emerged. I commend the president and his effort to find ways to ensure that the average student doesn’t take 25 years to pay down a college loan like he did.

President Clinton once said, “When we make college more affordable, we make the American dream more achievable.”

Well, doesn’t exactly look like we have been true to those words. But it looks like things may be changing.

Caucci is the founder of the Sales Huddle Group, Inc.

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