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Curbing College Costs and Skyrocketing Student Loans

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Universities charge too much, deliver too little and channel too many students into a lifetime of debt. Genuine reform must be brought to bear to curb those abuses.

College graduates still earn more and are unemployed less often. However, with so many recent graduates serving cappuccino and treading water in unpaid internships, a four-year diploma is not quite the solid investment it once was, and should not be so-often viewed as such a necessity by society.

Since 2007 to 2008, the average pay for recent four-year graduates has fallen nearly 5%, while the average earnings of a typical American worker, as tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is up 10%.

Graduates in high-demand disciplines can still earn good starting salaries and expect rising earnings as experience grows, but in many majors they increasingly face market conditions that have bedeviled skilled manufacturing workers for decades -- too many folks chasing too few jobs.

Academics see a university education idealistically -- cultivating critical thinking and facilitating a satisfying life -- but for most middle-class families, a diploma is a capital investment often purchased at extortive prices.

Over several decades, Americans have become convinced too many jobs require college education that, when evaluated in terms of their objective skill requirements, shouldn't. Convenience restaurant managers and cell phone salespeople don't need an education in English, math and politics beyond what a decent high school education imparts.

Yet, employers often press for several years of college or a degree, because college graduates are cheap and plentiful, but still end up training new hires in rudiments of hospitality management, operating systems and the like.

Too many young people are pressured into a costly education they don't need, and universities, enjoying such a captive market, have over expanded, acceded to faculty demands for light teaching loads, layered on costly bureaucracies and unconscionably raised the cost of college to beyond what it frequently is worth to students and society as a whole.

Outstanding student loans now exceed $1 trillion, but most significantly one in six is in default and that ratio will likely grow.

Unlike loans taken to capitalize a small business or buy a house, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and stories abound of folks in their forties and fifties still saddled with onerous debt and the elderly with garnisheed Social Security benefits.

Colleges and universities do not furnish families with the information necessary to make sound choices -- the probability a student will complete a degree in four years, the full cost of completing a degree, and the likely salaries and prospects for repaying loans, especially according to major and for those students that only attend a few years and do not complete a degree.