Cafe-d'étatIs there a Tuition Loan Bubble? I cringe when clueless politicians self-righteously announce how THEY “worked their way through college” at minimum wage jobs. Followed by: “Why don’t students just do that today? Why are they so lazy?”

Well… back in 1980 a year of tuition at a typical state college—say, the University of Washington— cost about $700 bucks. Far less than Ivy League schools like Harvard or Yale; but even those exclusive universities only charged tuition rates around $8,000 a year.

Today the University of Washington charges $12,500 per year for undergraduate tuition. I guess a dollar doesn’t buy what it used to.

Yet the Consumer Price Index reveals that one 1980 dollar ($1.00) is equivalent in buying power to $2.83 in 2013 currency. So let’s do a little math: a $700 dollar college tuition in 1980, adjusted for inflation, SHOULD cost around $2000 in 2013 dollars. Instead it costs $12,500 dollars. That’s over a SIX HUNDRED PERCENT MARK-UP. Most American tuition costs follow that trend.

What the hell happened?

“What happened” is that an entire generation of ambitious, upwardly-mobile Baby Boomers took personal advantage of the public university system set in place for them by their beneficial forebears, and then— once those same Baby Boomers gained control of the legislative power of state and federal government— they spent the next thirty years collectively taking a shit on future generations of college students by bleeding that public university system dry and refusing to pay back into it. They also took control of the business end of American academia and MONETIZED IT.

Back in 1981, at public colleges, taxpayers picked up around 90 percent of the tab. That was considered beneficial because educated citizens are a valuable national resource. Today, tax subsidies pay only around 30 percent of national tuition, and that number is dropping. Enter the banking industry: an entire predatory loan industry has grown up around the national need for college loans, fueled by ever-increasing tuition costs.

When the Class of 2013 collects their diplomas they’ll already be drowning in long-term debt, owing 3x more for a degree than their parents did. Is it worth that much? Doubtful. The typical U.S. college student spends less than 30 hours a week on academics, 45% of U.S. college students exhibit “no significant gains in learning” after two years in college, modern college students spend approximately 50% less time studying than a decade ago, 50% have never taken a class where they had to write more than 20 pages, 32% have never taken a class where they had to read more than 40 pages in a week, and only 36% percent who began college after 2001 received a bachelor’s degree within four years.

Total American student loans have tripled since 2004 and now approach $1 trillion, surpassing credit-card debt and car loans. In the last ten years the number of borrowers has increased 70% and the average amount owed has gone up 70%. 17% of those borrowers are over 90 days delinquent on their interest payments. 44% haven’t even started making payments yet. They borrow twice as much money to pay for soaring tuitions which are rising at around 8 percent a year. The student loan default rate has nearly doubled since 2005 since college loans get bought and sold over and over until even “interest-only” loan payments can top $400 a month. So— after ten years of payments— some graduates will still owe more than they borrowed; feeding the banks as eternal cash cows who can never pay off their student loans, ever.

Banks get rich. Corporations get rich. And students sell their lives to qualify for jobs that no longer exist. Welcome to the new College-Industrial Complex.