How to kill the American Dream

Nick Selby delivers his convocaton speech at Georgia Tech

You’ve probably seen it, and I’ve seen it too.  Nick Selby‘s theme-music-enhanced convocation speech at Georgia Tech was one for the history books. It was epic, nerdy, and genuine, all at the same time.  I loved it.

I may have gone to Auburn, but I’ll give Georgia Tech their due – it was a great moment, and a big statement that Nick was allowed to deliver that speech in the first place.  Kudos to Tech for that.

But you know what? He was only able to give the speech because he had the opportunity to pursue a higher education in the first place. 1 out of 3 American kids his age, for whatever reason, don’t.

That bothers me, and here’s why:

In the US, college grads are over 70% more likely to be employed and earn over $1,000,000 more during their lives than they would had they not gone to college. Sadly, those without a college degree are 3 times more likely to live in poverty and 7 times more likely to use food stamps.

Bachelor’s degree holders are healthier, too – being 1/3 as likely to smoke and twice as likely to exercise vigorously over the course of their lives.  Finally, the more educated someone is, the better prepared their children are for preschool — so their kids have a better shot at life as well.

Even if someone doesn’t go to a traditional, 4-year college, getting a higher education of some sort (e.g., Community college, Technical college) still leads to higher incomes and improved social mobility. An associate’s degree holder can nearly double their lifetime income when compared to a high school diploma alone.

This makes me think: What would America be like if every single kid had a shot to go to college and hear or give a welcome speech like that?

It would be great: Lower crime, more economic opportunity, which translates to increased Government revenue and decreased Government spending – a good thing the left and right would (maybe) agree on. The benefits we reap would be enormous, and with millions of unfilled jobs waiting for skilled workers, the opportunities for better lives are there for the taking, right now.

The sad truth, though, is that college is becoming more and more unaffordable for the average American:

College tuition costs compared to middle-class income from 1988 to 2008

College tuition costs compared to middle-class income from 1988 to 2008

Related: 3 Presidents who used the GI Bill to pay for college

We all know that a college education isn’t cheap — I’ve got student loans myself.  This is why the GI Bill was and is such an important device for middle-class advancement.  So much so, that the three men to the right of this photo used it to pay for their college education.

I think you’ll agree — that education served them well.

Left to right: Presidents Reagan, Nixon, G.W. Bush, and Ford

Left to right: U.S. Presidents Reagan, Nixon, G.W. Bush, and Ford

The educational reforms currently being discussed are an excellent starting point.  They may not be perfect, but we still must act: We cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

It must not be, in the United States of America, that college “is not for” someone because they cannot afford it.  Some of the most well-known titans of industry and American culture have come from the humblest of beginnings, and the sacred path of upward American mobility must be protected.

The point is this: Education reform is about jobs.  Jobs for our kids.  Jobs for our grandkids.  Jobs for future generations that will use their newfound affluence to pursue their own version of that quintessential dream hoped for all over the world.

Folks, the American dream is fragile, and it’s on life support – let’s not pull the plug.


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