Building Brains (And Bridges)
After months of congressional wrangling, President Obama will sign HR 4348 — also known as the Transportation and Student Loan Rate Bill — today at the White House.
Not only will the bill prevent interest rates from doubling for about seven million students, it will also continue funding jobs for the critically needed work of fixing the nation’s deteriorating bridges and roads.
I think it’s interesting that these two issues — transportation and higher education — are linked together in a single piece of legislation. These topics might not seem to have much in common but I’d argue the connective tissue is stronger than it first appears.
As the country continues rebounding from the effects of the recession, younger workers are still finding a shortage of opportunities. Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center reported the employment rate for individuals ages 18-24 was 54 percent, the lowest point since the statistic was first tracked in 1948. College students are a key underpinning of the future strength of the nation’s infrastructure. Helping to shore them up, rather than saddling them with crippling debt that they might struggle to repay, probably makes a lot of sense.
At the same time, it’s important that students have some degree of confidence in the rate of return on their investment in a post-secondary degree. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University has done extensive research in this area, and determined that an individual with a four-year college degree will earn an average of $1.4 million more over a lifetime than someone whose education stopped after finishing high school.
The Project on Student Debt is an excellent resource if you’re looking an explanation behind the numbers. I’ve also written about new efforts toward greater accountability in higher education here and here.