I believe we should do two things simultaneously:
Cancel all student debt taken out for attendance to public universities, public colleges, and other secondary education
Make attendance to public universities, public colleges, and other secondary education free
It’s ridiculous that we charge people money to receive an education. If anything, we should be paying people to be students, but I can settle for breaking even for now. Some people argue that cancelling student debt is unfair or elitist or will disproportionately help people who don’t need the most help. The way I view student debt is as a leech on our economy. I just want to be done with it. Leave it in the past, wipe our hands clean, and move forward. And it’s easier than you think. About 90% of student loans were created by the federal government printing money, so cancelling it will actually reduce the supply of money in the economy, not that that particular money was doing much productive circulating in the first place.
Making secondary education free is an investment in our society, much like infrastructure. The private sector won’t pay for it, but education is immensely helpful, so instead the public sector pays for it. Unlike with my Freedom Dividend proposal, I will not spell out a specific funding mechanism because it’s unnecessary. The money exists, it’s an obvious priority, and the price tag would not be nearly as high as you might imagine. The soaring costs of universities is mostly due to a massive inflation of unnecessary administration over the decades. The federal government will have negotiating power that an individual student never has and can strong-arm universities to cut out the egregious fat they’ve built up.
Beyond eliminating the burden of student debt, we need an increased focus on alternative secondary education in the form of certification programs, trade/vocational schools, apprenticeships, and even domestic civil service programs. We could shift that focus by paying people to enroll in these programs. We could even allow these programs to send representatives to high schools to show students what some of their post-graduate options are, like we already do with universities and the military.
Of course, this doesn’t address one of the more fundamental problems with universities both here and around the world: most university programs don’t prepare students for modern adult life. In the US, most degrees have become effectively meaningless. American employers often care far more about related work experience than a diploma because they know that most university programs don’t prepare students for modern adult life. COVID-19 has begun to force some universities to start acknowledging and addressing this problem, but I personally feel that it will take a Universal Basic Income to force real reform in the university education space.
Overall, I have a much grander vision for education, but in terms of things we can do right away in the space of young adult education, these simple reforms are incredibly sensible, simple, and reasonable.