Debt is a major problem affecting young people in Colorado. My generation is drowning in student loans: over $25,000 of debt on average. To make matters worse, college tuition has increased by 500% in the last 10 years. Young people are down and out: desperate for serious change when it comes to higher education.
This is why GenOpp is working to educate young people about solutions to our student debt dilemma. Last weekend we hosted a “Drowning in Debt” pool party in Denver – no actual drowning involved, of course – to highlight how the positive and empowering aspects of higher education are being diminished because of rising costs and skyrocketing debt. In order to tackle these issues and allow higher education to work for us, we need our elected officials to support policies aimed at lowering the cost of college and reducing the amount of debt that young Coloradans are shouldering.
Some lawmakers have already begun this push. Senator Mike Lee and Representative Ron DeSantis’ Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act (HERO Act) provides useful reforms to the most glaring flaw in our current system of higher education: the accreditation process.
Accreditation is a complicated component of higher education that functions as a federally regulated “seal of approval.” It is granted by a peer review process: accredited institutions are those that actually grant accreditation. Since traditional colleges and universities have control over this process, it has resulted in an unfair monopoly in the higher education marketplace. Accredited colleges and universities are able, as a result of their stranglehold, to raise prices as they see fit. This setup benefits the colleges in question, but hurts young people. It also keeps innovative alternatives to to post-secondary schooling out of the marketplace.
The HERO Act would allow room for these alternatives to become accredited and available to young people. My generation is always looking for new ways to do things and change the status quo – but the current accreditation process doesn’t accommodate our entrepreneurial energy. Sen. Lee’s and Rep. DeSantis’s bill is a win-win: it creates competition in the higher education marketplace – which lowers costs for everyone – and it allows young people to pursue alternative degrees.
The success of our pool party is an indicator of just how important this issue really is to those of us deeply affected by it. Reforming and expanding accreditation is a good first step to keep my generation from drowning in debt, and instead, start swimming in opportunity.
Jonathan Lockwood, 25, is the Colorado State Director for Generation Opportunity, a youth advocacy organization.