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The Commencement Address That Won't Be Given

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Outstanding student debt now totals over $1 trillion. That's more than the nation's total credit-card debt.  

The extraordinary rise in student debt is due to two related facts: the cost of a college education continues to increase faster than inflation, and state and local spending per college student continues to drop -- this year reaching a 25-year low.

But this can't go on. If unemployment stays high for many years, if the wages of young college grads continue to fall, if the costs of college continue to rise and state and local spending per college student continues to drop, and if the college debt burden therefore continues to explode -- well, you do the math.

At some point in the not-too-distant future these lines cross. College is no longer a good investment.

That's a problem for you and for those who will follow you into these hallowed halls, but it's also a problem for America as a whole.

You see, a college education isn't just a private investment. It's also a public good. This nation can't be competitive globally, nor can we have a vibrant and responsible democracy, without a large number of well-educated people.

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So it's not just you who are burdened by these trends. If they continue, we're all f*cked.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at

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