“Always Free….. and Worth Every Penny”
It’s such a heartwarming image – budding young adults in their cap and gowns standing next to their proud parents…. smiling at their bright future as they clutch their college diploma – their ticket to prosperity….
The college degree has long been a foundation of the American dream …. The path to prosperity…. Lifelong friends…. exp
loring and expanding one’s intellect to find one ‘s true passion……
But the dream has turned into a nightmare for many….. the cost has skyrocketed – beyond the means of many middle class families; student debt has risen rapidly and the job prospects for graduates are much less attractive than in the past.
A debate has now moved to the forefront – William Bennett has just published Is College Worth It ? where he challenges the value of the traditional 4 year degree.
Let’s take a look at a few facts:
- The cost of attending college has grown much faster than inflation – In 1983 total tuition at a typical private US university to get a bachelor’s degree was $11,000. That’s in 2012 dollars. This year tuition for one year was an average of $29,000. A public college charged in-state students $2,200 a year in tuition and fees — in today’s dollars. You could get a full four-year degree for $8,800. Today that will get you one year’s tuition, or $8,700.
- The average debt for a graduate in 2013 is $35,200. And 58% of the 1.8 million borrowers whose student loans were began to be due in 2005 hadn’t received a degree.
- Recent studies indicate the quality of the education is suspect – After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change. Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago.
- Job prospects are uncertain -There were 1.9 million unemployed college graduates in October, according to the Labor Department, a third of them younger than 35. About half of young graduates are either unemployed or are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree.
- Certainly a degree is better than no degree – the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders was 4.1%, versus 11% for those with only a high-school diploma and 9.8% for those who began college but didn’t finish. Employed college graduates earned 37% more than dropouts in 2010, according to an Education Department analysis of Commerce Department data. A high school graduate can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor’s degree $2.1 million; and people with a master’s degree $2.5 million.
Probably true – but that’s an average – it includes doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, bankers…. the data for degrees without math or science is less convincing…. for instance, the typical worker with a BS in petroleum engineering earned $120,000 a year. Those with a degree in math and computer science earned $98,000……. the median worker with a degree in counseling psychology earned just $29,000…. and those with degrees in early childhood education earned $36,000. Hmmmmm – the course of study matters…..
- And not all colleges are the same – there are some very credible estimates of the ROI of all the colleges….. Check out the top 5 and bottom 5 schools in the US.
- This is not just a US issue – Britian’s Great University Rip Off
From the time this country was founded until right before WWII a college education was mostly for the elite class… a luxury that most could not afford… and not seen as the only path to a prosperous life. As the country became prosperous a college education became inexpensive …..and available to all…. a diploma, any diploma, became a virtually guaranteed path to a great job.
But 30 years ago things began to change…. A college education became an entitlement for middle class children…. Loans became widely available …..and colleges – especially private colleges – began to compete on amenities. Dorms became luxury apartments, gyms became athletic complexes and cafeterias became upscale food courts. Academic demands also seemed to slip as did job prospects….
….. yet many – often those who could least afford it- took for granted, blindly trusted, that a college education was a great investment for their future …..regardless of the cost – regardless of the degree.
At the same time economic prospects dimmed… not only did blue collar manufacturing jobs move overseas, but service jobs began moving as well….. and the Great Recession accelerated the demise of state funding and forced the costs higher…..
Perhaps for a small, elite class the dream of an education in the classics will remain intact ……
……but for most the purpose of college now is to get a job….. and prepare for a lifetime of competing to earn enough to raise a family, pay taxes, save for retirement – and save for your child’s college education…….
There must be a better way…. very low cost learning models are rapidly emerging through virtual universities and MOOCs – Kahn Academy, Udacity, Cousera, EdX…… that offer the hope of a radically different model for education – lower costs, better quality. Respected NYT columnist and author Tom Friedman says Revolution Hits the Universities….. David Brooks calls it a The Campus Tsunami.
Yet criticism of higher education is beginning to sound familiar – an aging industry, reluctant to change, unable/unwilling to adapt to new technologies, hanging on to aging business models, indifferent to customer needs…… sounds like print newspapers, retail, video rental, Ma Bell…….
……the pattern of established/entrenched leaders resisting change is also all too familiar. The shallow, petty views expressed in the NYT Editorial The Trouble with Online Education is a great example. It reminds me of retail executives in 1997 explaining why online retail was not going to be successful. Jeff Bezos did not listen ……and neither will today’s education entrepreneurs.
I am certainly no expert on education….but after just a bit of reading it seems to me:
- Buyer beware – parents and students must be very careful in choosing a school and course of study
- The US higher education system is too expensive and too ineffective to maintain the status quo
- We are sending too many kids to college. Universities are turning out graduates faster than America’s labor markets are creating jobs that traditionally have been required for some degrees
- A healthy robust higher education system is critical to not only the US but the world as well
- Change will largely be driven from the outside – and a few enlightened/radical insiders.
- A new and radically different higher education model will merge in the next 5-10 years that will allow anyone to get an education that leads to great job prospects for just $20,000. Maybe they won’t have an organic juice bar, Saturday afternoons in the stadium, fraternity parties and a mastery of the classics – but they will be educated and ready to compete in the global job market.
Interesting unrelated facts:
- 2013 is the first year since 1987 not to have any repeated digits – go ahead and confirm it – I did
- The highest court in the land – The Supreme Court building has a basketball court – WSJ
- “&” and “and” mean different things in movie credits. Two writers’ names joined with “&” means they collaborated, while “and” means they worked on the script at different times.