Should you go to college? The answer used to be self-evident: college was a path to upward mobility, a ticket to middle-class adulthood. Higher education played a particularly critical role for women looking to secure independence through financial stability. But increasingly, stories about college focus on the relentless burden of student debt and efforts to channel students toward majors that will help them beat the ugly job market. In this installment of The Curve, Anna Clark, Susan Feiner, Nancy Folbre and host Kathleen Geier do the math, exploring the role that colleges play in breaking or boosting the class hierarchy in today’s economic landscape.
Anna Clark: You can’t use the word “debt” without stumbling on its double meaning. A seemingly simple term for money owed, it is steeped in morality. “Forgive us our debts” goes the Christian prayer, meaning “sins.” As David Graeber points out, our language of business depends on our language of ethics. “Reckoning,” “forgiveness,” “accountability” and “redemption” refer to both the state of our soul and our credit status. Our understanding of who owes what to whom defines our vocabulary for right and wrong. History is as much a story of lenders and borrowers as it is a story of rich and poor.