A graduating student wears a money lei on June 14, in Pasadena, California. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Most middle-class parents view paying for college as a moral obligation, not just a budgetary challenge, according to new research by New York University associate professor Caitlin Zaloom, the New York Times reports.

Driving the news: Even when money isn't a problem, Operation Varsity Blues illustrates that some parents will go to great, possibly illegal lengths to secure the "right" school for their children. Wealthy parents — dentistry professors, doctors, executives, actors and lawyers — funded what the DOJ has called the biggest admissions scam in U.S. history, to secure spots for their kids at the University of Texas, Yale, Georgetown and other schools.

What they found: Zaloom argues that paying for college complicates how parents save for their own futures and how they pay for their children's development. Coming up with the cash to pay for college can deplete parents' retirement funds and drop them out of the middle class.

  • Through 160 interviews with college students and their parents over 7 years, Zaloom found that parents and their children will "prioritize the 'right' school — and then find ways to meet the cost, no matter what it takes," per the NYT.
  • Zaloom argues that this pressure to get kids into college has "fundamentally changed the experience of being middle class" in the U.S.
  • The research also resulted in the notion of "social speculation," wherein parents wager money today, betting their children's education will secure them a future space in the middle class.

The big picture: The cost of going to public or private school has been ratcheting up for decades. Zaloom writes in the NYT that the average yearly cost of attending an American university totals $50,000, while less than 5% of Americans have college savings accounts. Meanwhile, the Fed says student loans are smothering the housing market and more Democratic 2020 candidates are campaigning on the promise of tuition-free college.

Go deeper: How paying for college is changing middle-class life

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Post-debate poll finds Biden strong on every major issue

Joe Biden speaks Friday about "The Biden Plan to Beat COVID-19," at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

This is one of the bigger signs of trouble for President Trump that we've seen in a poll: Of the final debate's seven topics, Joe Biden won or tied on all seven when viewers in a massive Axios-SurveyMonkey sample were asked who they trusted more to handle the issue.

Why it matters: In a time of unprecedented colliding crises for the nation, the polling considered Biden to be vastly more competent.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
5 hours ago - Science

The murder hornets are here

A braver man than me holds a speciment of the Asian giant hornet. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Entomologists in Washington state on Thursday discovered the first Asian giant hornet nest in the U.S.

Why it matters: You may know this insect species by its nom de guerre: "the murder hornet." While the threat they pose to humans has been overstated, the invading hornets could decimate local honeybee populations if they establish themselves.