Home, school?

Homeownership and college education were booming trends after the mid-20th century, together ballooning the U.S. middle class — and distinguishing that class from those below it. As the century ended, haves had homes and college educations, and have-nots had neither.

The news about real estate markets reminds me that the connection between home wealth and college attendance was sometimes direct, as when experts advised parents to use home equity loans to send their kids to college (advice you don’t hear so much these days). But even without home equity loans, the wealth stored in middle-class homes — for most such families their largest asset — underwrote millions of college educations. I guess you could say the federal policies promoting homeownership were big boons for the higher education industry, not just the GIs and mostly-white suburbanites who landed inside the picket fences.

With economic shifts requiring more education for success, an increase in demand contributed to the rise in college costs. But to this non-expert it appears rising home values (and increased access to home ownership) were a factor as well.

Sources: Federal Housing Finance Agency; Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Given the compound fracture apparent in these trend lines, must something give? Maybe fewer people will go to college. Or we could increase access to student loans and grants, so the state would cover more of the cost, and widen the access to higher education. Or — just thinking out loud here — someone might look for a way to at least slow the increase in college costs.

Please feel free to set me straight on what’s missing here.

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