A CBS News poll conducted Oct. 19-24 revealed that 57 percent of those polled cited the “economy and jobs” as the “most important problem facing the country today.” Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics news release, dated Oct. 7, 2011, reports that the rate of unemployment among high school graduates is 9.7 percent, which higher than the national average of 9.0 percent. Comparatively, the rate of unemployment among those possessing bachelor’s degrees is 4.2 percent. Thus, any effort to effectively combat unemployment must help those who don’t possess a college degree, especially because college may be financially out of reach for many high school graduates. Consider that most aid comes in the form of loans, which have to be paid back with interest. In 2008, the U.S. government granted $100 billion in student loans, and the average student graduated from college with $23,186 of debt. Unfortunately, some people do not have the means to attend college, even with all the financial aid opportunities currently available.
I propose that the U.S. government issue more scholarships. Scholarships don’t have to be paid back, which alleviates the debt issue. Eligibility would be based on merit, need and the student’s intended course of study. The program would favor those interested in pursuing a degree in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields. Consider a hypothetical student who studies hard in high school, comes from a position of financial hardship and applies to study civil engineering here at Drexel. His or her strong performance in high school is qualification to be one of the 51 percent of students slated to receive the average $22,000 in financial aid from Drexel in 2011. Drexel’s annual tuition, fees, housing and meal plan costs for a student enrolled in the five-year, 3-co-op program total $47,935. Even with the average earning of $17,213 per engineering co-op, he or she will have to take out either private or public student loans to cover the remaining $78,000 to pay for a Drexel education. This means that upon graduation, the student would have $78,000 plus interest to repay. So rather than face $78,000 plus interest in debt, the student’s need, merits and career interest would qualify them to receive another $78,000 in scholarship funds from the U.S. federal government to cover the remaining tuition. However, to make such a program more worthwhile for the country, accepting such a scholarship would have to entail a service obligation to the country. Upon graduating from Drexel, this student could go to work for the government building roads, dams and other infrastructure. While the student wouldn’t earn a competitive salary, living expenses would be covered. In general, the length of the service commitment would depend on the amount of money received. Thus after four or five years of college and several years of work experience, the student will have built a resume, have virtually no debt and take pride in the fact that he or she served the country.
Such a program would be very expensive for the government and require higher taxes, but it would make college education more affordable to high school graduates at a time when a college education has a strong correlation with employment and higher earnings. Furthermore, with a strong demand in the STEM fields, graduating more students with such degrees would improve the long-term employment outlook. Finally, it would put people to work on modernizing our infrastructure or conducting scientific research. I think America’s students deserve the help. Ultimately, if we are serious about improving our economic situation by creating jobs, we need to be even more serious about educating our people.
Maxwell Balbin is a sophomore majoring in environmental science. He can be reached at [email protected]