I will have the pleasure on Wednesday of speaking to students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. What will I tell them? The best way for the next generation of public service leaders to give back is by diminishing the artificial value of their expensive college degrees. It’s time to debunk the fiction that a prestigious degree is the only key to the American dream.
President’s Biden’s move to cancel federal student-loan debt showcases the higher-education system’s brokenness. It will make already crippling levels of inflation even worse, raise the cost of college, and burden future generations with even more debt.
The outrageous cost of college is a crisis in its own right. Years of throwing public money at the problem has yet to solve it. But the skyrocketing cost of energy, housing and healthcare is also a crisis that disproportionately harms Americans who didn’t attend college. It’s unfair and counterproductive to force hardworking men and women to pay off other people’s college debts.
Historically, higher education has played a part in developing civic virtue in public life. But more and more, higher-education institutions, enabled by increasingly bloated administrations, are leading the charge to tear down what makes this nation great. Some elite academic institutions are openly hostile to core American values such as freedom of speech, which undergirds our success as a nation.
We must reorient the education system to fit the economic and cultural needs of the 21st century. A patriotic and skilled workforce, unencumbered by unbearable levels of debt, will allow the U.S. to compete with China and other adversaries while defending the values of the American founding.
To begin the hard work of reconfiguring the broken higher-education system, there are three critical steps we can take immediately. First, employers should stop requiring college degrees for jobs that don’t need them. In Maryland, we’ve led the charge by announcing that thousands of state jobs will no longer have such requirements. If more states follow our lead, the trend could spread to the private sector. The federal government should also expand Pell grant subsidies for short-term skills-based training, not only expensive four-year degrees.
Second, the federal government and states must drastically ramp up apprenticeship programs to create alternative pathways to careers like cybersecurity, healthcare and the skilled trades. Maryland’s innovative EARN program has successfully created partnerships with these kinds of industries to develop job-training programs, generating $17.32 of economic impact for every $1 of state funding.
Third, Congress should limit executive power to forgive student loans unilaterally. To deal effectively with the aftermath of Mr. Biden’s reckless action, we must make it clear to the next generation of leaders that this won’t ever happen again, whether they pursue their educations at Harvard, at another university, or through alternative pathways.
A good education is the foundation to a successful career and a healthy civic society. But a good education doesn’t necessarily require a four-year degree, especially when such excessive credentialism falls on the taxpayer’s dime.
Mr. Hogan, a Republican, is governor of Maryland.