It is taken for granted and with little defense that everyone should get a college degree. We saw this in housing for decades. Just before the peak, George W. Bush accepting his party's nomination talked about an "ownership society" where everyone owned their own home. Less than four years later, it was falling in on itself, and now we wonder if renting is really so bad. Higher education is lauded with bi-partisan support both Republicans and Democrats. George H. W. Bush signed Higher Education Act authorizing the government to directly lend to students. And Barack Obama has piled on supporting a freeze of interest rates for this program.
Eventually with all this cultural pressure, prices start to rise. We saw this in housing prices during the 90s and early 2000s. And we're seeing it in the higher education market now. Since 1980, the inflation adjusted average cost of a 4 year degree has ballooned from $3,101 to $32,026. The cost of college has been increasing at an average of 8% per year for the past 30 years, well in excess of the inflation rate. The system is finally beginning to fall in on itself; the two year default rate for federal student loans rose to 9.1% last year from 8.8% in 2011, according to the Department of Education.
Advocates of higher education have stood firm on the idea that despite rising costs, higher education was still the secure ticket to stable, high paying jobs. Apparently they didn't get the memo from the Associated Press that 53% of recent college grads are now either unemployed or underemployed. The AP also notes, recent graduates are now more likely to work as "waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined."
All the while, this is facilitated by insider political pressure. In the run up to the housing crisis, politicians ensured all time low interest rates and backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We have done essentially the same thing in the education market by underwriting over $1,065,254,838,688 -- that's One Trillion -- in student loans. This doesn't even begin to count state taxes that go to fund colleges and universities.