Loans. They're about as fundamental to advanced market economies as is the law of supply and demand. The logic is simple: Anything with a high upfront cost is worth borrowing money to attain if it returns even greater value than it itself.
One such item with a high upfront cost is a college education. When we borrow to pay tuition, we "pull demand forward," as economists call it, using future dollars earned in the present in the form of borrowed principle, which will have to be repaid with an additional amount (interest). This total sum -- the principle plus accrued interest -- is of a finite amount, as any amortization schedule will readily reveal. So, say you borrow $70,000 to pay for four years tuition. Fourteen years or so later you send in your final loan payment. Adding up these payments over the years you learn that you repaid $82,000, which amounts to a payment of $12,000 dollars for the use of $70,000 ten years before.
You would of course only enter into this arrangement if believed that the amount of value you stand to realize from the $70,000 initial outlay exceed the $82,000 you will have to pay back to be worth your while.
For a long time -- decades, in fact -- this calculation did prove worthwhile to a great many young people. How regrettable it is, then, to learn that you have reached a moment in history in which the same outcomes aren't so confidently assured as once they were. A July 10, 2011 A Metro.us article reports, "A new study into the effects of financial aid to help needy people attend college has found that the money makes little difference to whether or not students completed their degree programs."
"In fact," the article continues, "according to the Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study, in some cases the money had a negative effect on college attendance and graduation."
What intervenes to effect the outcomes isn't stated in the article. It may be that disadvantage simply breeds greater disadvantage. Though this conclusion seems pessimistically deterministic, it is nonetheless true that that which holds true in the positive respect -- to those who already have more than others, even more accriues -- may also hold true in the negative: to those who already have less, even less accrues.
"The research found that cash -- including Pell Grants which have been awarded to 5.4 million needy American students -- may benefit at-risk students considered more likely to drop out of college," the Metro.us article goes on to report, "but that the money might also make a student considered 'most likely to succeed' more likely to leave without completing a degree."
Times are tough -- and getting tougher. Mustering the wherewithal to see through a postsecondary education appears to be in decreasing supply, especially among students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who must rely heavily on various forms of government assistance to pursue their dreams of embarking on a career in such fields as software engineering or instructional technology. This situation must pass, liek all things, but you ought not count on it doing so any time soon.