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College-level education is key to both personal and professional flourishing for young adults and adults in the U.S. Whether in the form of a college degree or advanced certificate, it promises greater financial stability for people. This is why I feel so strongly that the best way to address the hopelessness infecting much of our country and the world is by making high-quality, college-level learning affordable and accessible for everyone.

Maybe that’s why these three items about college and its value caught my attention today.

Paul Tough’s new book, The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us, explores, the lives of students and their families and asks how college — once a bright beacon of promise and potent engine of advancement — has turned into something that’s often dysfunctional and downright cruel. Frank Bruni, discussing the book, writes:

At its best, it (college) remains a ladder to higher earnings, greater economic security and dreams fulfilled. For some lucky students, it’s still an exhilarating and enormously fun rite of passage. And America’s standout schools inspire envy around the world.

But for too many students, college is a letdown, betrayal or taunt. And Tough — whose previous book, How Children Succeed, was an influential best seller — explores the various reasons and the toll on young adults at every socioeconomic level, though it’s poor and middle-class strivers who are the most badly served by far.

On a related note, Caitlin Zaloom in her new book, Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost, documents how the price of a college education has forced many middle-class families to rearrange their priorities, finances, and lives. The parents Zaloom interviews fear for their children’s futures if a college degree is financially unattainable.

In today’s cartoon my wife, Vicky Woodward, captures a variety of the anxieties parents feel about college, as well as the lengths they will go to in order to make sure their students land at the right school.

And yet, for all the anxiety about college and the perception that it remains the best indicator of success in life, we also have people like Robert G. Valletta and Paul E. Peterson discussing whether the earning power of college graduates have flatlined in relation to those without a college degree.

Of course, all these books and research are pointing to the same issue — equitable access. The anxiety and potential hopelessness would subside considerably if everyone knew. from the outset, that a college-level education was attainable and that it was something they could afford.

 

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