Lily’s Blackboard: Dimming the American Dream with Debt

I was honored to guest blog about my family’s American experience with rapidly increasing college debt for NEA President Lily Eskelsen García at Lily’s Blackboard. The guest post originally appear here.

The NEA has had a recent focus on Degrees Not Debt.

The baby boomers went to college in the 1960s and 1970s at very little cost because their parents’ generation and those before them had made a commitment to publicly funding higher education. However, is that dream dimming because some boomers would rather have tax cuts instead of reasonably priced and high quality public education for the millennials and coming generations of students?

The experience of my family at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor represents the increasing generational debt load. My parents attended Michigan in the early 1970s. Due to low tuition and large state subsidies, they took on very little debt en route to their degree.

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 Two decades later when I, a member of Generation X, attended the University of Michigan in the 1990s, the state subsidies to higher education had dropped and tuition had more than tripled since the 1970s. I acquired about $10,000 in debt by graduation. 

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The middle sister in my family graduated from the University of Michigan just after the turn of century. The dot.comboom had subsided and state budgets were strained across the United States. She acquired $40,000 in debt— a 400% increase from the debt I acquired in the 1990s.

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When my youngest sister, a millennial, completed her degree recently, her debt load was $70,000—700% more than my debt and 175% more than my middle sister.

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Politicians from the state of Michigan, Texas and many other states want to limit and cap funding to institutions of higher education while at the same cajoling universities not to increase tuition- they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. 

The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor has steadily raised tuition over the past several decades in order to continue offering a world class education (still the top public school in the US according to the most recent world rankings) and to respond to the state of Michigan’s increasingly limited commitment to higher education. Here is what my millennial sister had to say about her debt situation:

“After graduating from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor Nursing School with a significant amount of student loan debt, both private and federal, I chose to move back home and live with my parents. I could have moved to an exciting new city and new job like many of my peers, but chose not to because of my student debt. For the past three years I have been paying double payments on my student loans. As a young millennial, I am not contributing to the economy as much as I could be, because all of my money is going to my debt. No furniture purchases, no brand new car, and vacations are visiting family. I stick to my budget and don’t do a lot of extras.”

Sadly, the millennial generation has been saddled with large debts because politicians from the boomer generation have left behind the commitment to education demonstrated by those elected in prior generations.

Good thing their parents they still let them move back home.


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Please blame the “reduced state subsidies” for any typos.

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  • Statistically, isn’t the problem the massive inflation in tuition…10X that of inflation? There are plenty of quality educators out there that will work for less than $150K. Seriously. Institutions like Stanford are simply responding to supply and demand. Now, that the GDP of emerging nations is rising, many more global students apply and frankly there is no way that the top institutions can meet demand, so they raise their price. But middling and lower colleges are doing the same…and getting away with it!! I think that public funding *encourages* high prices. Any time you think it doesn’t matter whether tuition is $15K or $50K, you are going to end up with the latter.


  • Reblogged this on teachersindistress and commented:
    Our young people are caught between the rock and hard place of being told they need a college education, going into debt to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars and then not being able to get a good job because the economy that is being driven by bad policy isn’t recovering quickly enough. Read Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig’s perspective on how this is impacting all of us regardless of which generational demographic to which we may belong.


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