Marlins Park, financed by bonds that will take four decades and $2.4 billion to pay off, makes a perfect setting for commencement exercises. Vice President Joe Biden, when he addresses a happy throng of graduates from Cypress Bay High School in that fancy new baseball stadium on June 4, will be looking out at the unwitting perpetrators of the next great debt crisis.
Biden, nice guy that he is, probably wont open with, Hello, you likely deadbeats. Maybe he should.
Most of the students from the big suburban high school in Weston have college plans. But the next time these kids queue up for diplomas, theyll also be getting hefty IOUs. Plus interest charges.
Some 62 percent of the grads from U.S. public universities emerge with both a diploma and debt, according to figures compiled by the federal Department of Educations Project on Student Debt. About 72 percent of grads from private nonprofit universities owe money. An astounding 96 percent of the kids who attend for-profit schools venture out into the real world as debtors.
The study was conducted in 2008. Its only gotten worse amid a recession and slow, slow recovery, as state legislatures hack away at higher education allocations.
If grads from Cypress Bay High attend one of Floridas universities this fall, their freshman year will coincide with a $300 million cut in state funding. Along with a 15 percent pop in tuition and diminished help from Bright Futures scholarships.
Theyll be attending schools with fewer courses and larger classes, taught by professors disheartened by stagnant wages and benefit cuts, on campuses suffering from drastic cutbacks in maintenance budgets.
Florida college students, after paying ever more for ever less education, graduated in 2010 owing an average of $21,184 in student loans. The dismal trend lines indicate that the debt load will be much heftier when the Cypress Bay High School Class of 2012 finally get their degrees.
As the states contribution to higher education was cut by 24 percent over the last five years, Florida universities responded by jacking up tuition (five state universities have increased tuition by 60 percent over the last four years, six others by 45 percent.) Incoming freshmen are looking at annual 15 percent increases the maximum the state allows throughout their academic careers.
At the bottom of the education food chain, the students respond by borrowing more money.
Their debt will add to the $1 trillion in unpaid student debt already looming over the U.S. economy. This isnt limited to recent college grads. A third of American student debtors are 40 years old or older. Floridas U.S. Senator Marco Rubio told ABC News two weeks ago that he has yet to pay off the loans he borrowed to make his way through college and law school.
The problem comes when this unpaid trillion dollars (outstanding college loans now exceed the nations credit-card debt) is juxtaposed against a brutal job market. Half the nations college students under age 25 are still looking for fulltime work, according to a disheartening recent study out of Rutgers University.
Unemployment among college graduates is still far lower than those with no more than a high school degree, at 5.4 percent among those with a bachelor degree, 2.4 percent with a professional degree and just 1.9 percent for grads with a doctorate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But theres an unsettling indication that many college graduates have settled for the lower paying jobs that once went to high school grads. An estimated 100,000 janitors in the U.S. have bachelor degrees, 5,000 of them with doctorates. In January, the bureau counted 317,000 college-educated waiters and waitresses, 80,000 bartenders and 18,000 parking-lot attendants.