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COLUMN: Americans shouldn't be burdened with substantial student loan debt

More than 44 million Americans collectively owe almost $1.5 trillion in student debt, according to CNBC.

The average student loan borrower now graduates with approximately $37,172 in student loan debt. To put that in perspective, that's more than the cost of a brand new Audi A4, the startup cost for a business, or the price of most weddings. 

I am fortunate that my hard work in academics before college paid off in my receiving much-needed scholarships. I also have extremely generous parents who are willing to help me afford my college education. However, I struggle to earn enough money for tuition. 

I am not alone. Many people struggle to pay or work their way through college. In fact, roughly 70 percent of college graduates leave school with student debt, according to CNBC

College wasn't always a bank-breaking expense. The cost of tuition has increased over 200 percent since 1988, according to CNBC.

"Students at public four-year institutions paid an average of $3,190 in tuition for the 1987-1988 school year, with prices adjusted to reflect 2017 dollars. Thirty years later, that average has risen to $9,970 for the 2017-2018 school year. That's a 213 percent increase." 

CNBC outlines these changes by explaining that if the child of a 1988 Harvard University graduate were to attend Harvard today, the current cost would be more than two-and-a-half times as much as it was for their parent in 1988.

According to The Washington Post, increases in tuition mostly result from changes made by state lawmakers and higher education leaders who previously benefitted from low tuition prices when they earned their college degrees. 

The Post highlights that America used to view higher education as a public good supported by taxpayers. Now though, higher education is seen as a private good paid for by individuals. A transition that occurred without much public debate.

Forbes explains that not only has the cost of college skyrocketed but wages are not increasing at even close to that rate. 

"According to figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the average annual growth in wages was only 0.3% between January 1989 and January 2016." 

Translated, this means the cost of higher education increased nearly eight times faster than wages. With a college degree being a requirement for most employment, not going to college is a major disadvantage. However, graduating in debt isn't a great way to kick off a career. 

America has developed an “everyone for themselves” philosophy. Both in terms of education and other areas such as health care, human rights, and a living wage. This philosophy isn’t as successful as some might lead us to believe. The proof is in the comparison to other nations that do help provide for all their citizens. 

Many European countries, such as Germany, Denmark, and Finland, offer tuition-free education to university students. More than 20 countries total offer free college. Although free is a relative term because these countries typically have higher taxes which then allow them to offer additional social services. 

According to College Raptor, these systems result in higher college enrollment rates, less student debt among graduates, and more successful individual employment which contributes more money back to the economy.

America needs to reform its system of responsibility for their citizens. If every citizen is supported, it will only result in a more prosperous and successful country. If our government was reformed to allow everyone the opportunity to succeed in education, and live healthy lives with basic rights and wealth, our country could stand taller and stronger. Our citizens would be not only free but living well in that freedom. 

The pursuit of happiness is listed alongside liberty in the Declaration of Independence because every single person deserves the opportunity to work for success. It is impossible to work for success with all the unnecessary challenges most citizens face. Most people have to work simply to maintain these challenges, and struggle to overcome and push past those hurdles. 

America is a strong nation but could be even stronger if the country supported equal opportunities in education for each and every one of its citizens.