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Thursday, December 8, 2016

It’s that long-anticipated season for college seniors and their families.

Having completed four — or five or six — years of studies, students will don caps and gowns, march into an assembly and listen to a speaker exhort them to go forth and change the world. Then, having received that magical document, they will proceed to confront the mountain of debt they have amassed.

Some grads are luckier, of course. They were born to affluent families who can easily afford the cost of a college degree, even at the nation’s pricier institutions.

Most graduates, however, didn’t draw the lucky numbers in the birth lottery. Even if their parents were hardworking and thrifty members of the middle class, they probably couldn’t sock away enough to cover the ever-escalating cost of a college diploma. That’s doubly true if there are three or four kids to send.

According to a lengthy recent report in The New York Times, 94 percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree borrow money to pursue higher education. That’s up from 45 percent in 1993, the Times said.

The money now owed from college loans — more than a trillion dollars, by most estimates — has rekindled intertwining debates over the reasons for skyrocketing college costs and whether the diploma is worth its prodigious price tag. The first question, one I’ve asked many college presidents over the years, is worth serious study — perhaps research by a budding young economist with her eye on the Nobel Prize.

However, the second question has already been answered many, many times: A college degree is worthwhile not only for its individual recipient but also for his or her community. The only real mystery is this: Why do so many politicians seem unaware of that?