The “Ivory Tower”: Reconsidering the college investment

(This is Part I in a series about challenging traditional measures of financial success. Part II is Challenging traditional measures of financial success: Homeownership. Part III is The 9-to-5 job: Challenging how we earn a living.)

Not going to college was never really an option for me. “Don’t even joke about that,” my mom once said when I brought up the idea as a teenager.

My parents never went to college and believed they suffered financially because of it. Statistically, they may be right. According to the data, a bachelor’s degree can help you earn significantly more than a high school diploma.

My parents were always clear about what my job was, as a student: I was expected to pave a path that led to getting into a good college, finding some scholarships, and earning a diploma.

For years, college has been sold as the key to a better, more prosperous future. That’s not to say you’re doomed if you don’t have a degree. It’s just to say — I can see where my parents were coming from. And I can see why so many people aspire to go to college.

But recently, the value of higher education has come into question. In the documentary “Ivory Tower,” filmmaker Andrew Rossi addresses the many facets of this issue.

The student loan crisis

You’re probably aware that student loan debt, nationally, has reached the trillion-dollar mark.

That number is beyond high, but, at the same time, many more people are going to college. So let’s try a different number: $33,000 is the average debt of graduates in 2014. When adjusted for inflation, this number is up by more than $10,000 since 2005, the year I graduated (which makes my own student debt story small potatoes). Overall, the percentage of students taking out loans has increased too.

We don’t even need to revisit these numbers to know that student loan debt has become a huge burden for many. This issue is the premise of “Ivory Tower.” In the film, the student loan debt crisis is compared to the housing crisis. It’s a valid comparison, but the film points out a big difference between student loan debt and mortgage debt: Student loans, typically, are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. You can’t foreclose on your college education. In all but a few circumstances, you are stuck with it for life.

Traditionally, college has been part of the path to financial success. But in the face of these staggering statistics, we’re actually starting to reconsider whether a formal education is still a good investment. People naturally ask whether getting a degree is even worth it. “Why pay money if I can make money?” is a question brought up in the documentary. Meaning, why go to college and end up in the hole when you can just get a job and start earning?

In her own report of the documentary, Nona Willis Aronowitz, who writes about education and income inequality for NBC News, calls the crisis “the endangerment of a useful, worthwhile college degree in an era of job scarcity and rampant inequality.”

The knee-jerk reaction, and one that I’ve witnessed, is to say: Well, if college is expensive, don’t goDon’t get a degree. Don’t pay for something you can’t afford. But, statistically, Aronowitz is right — a college education is useful. When it comes to earning more, the stats say a degree is still worthwhile. And if the data means anything, ruling out education altogether doesn’t do much to remedy income inequality, as “Ivory Tower” points out.

Why college is changing

The year after I graduated, the tuition at my alma mater nearly doubled. Why has it become so expensive? Is college changing?

Less funding

Ivory Tower” offers a brief history lesson about the Morrill Act of 1862. It established the government’s role in promoting higher learning. It created land-grant colleges. States received a certain amount of federal land to be used to establish and fund educational institutions. The idea was that education should be accessible across social classes.

Over the years, funding for higher education has decreased. And, of course, there are strong, valid, opposing political opinions on this. But politics aside, there really is no denying that less funding has had an impact on colleges and their students.

More competition

In an interview with PBS, Rossi explains how college institutions have become less education-focused and more business-minded:

“… 1100 percent tuition has risen since 1978. And that is also the result of a decrease in state funding, 40 percent in that same period less in state funds for public colleges.

“But what we’re really looking at is a business model in higher education that encourages a growth to become bigger and better, which allows universities to attract student loan dollars and is creating perverse incentives in the classroom, in addition to this terrible student debt crisis.”

In other words, as one educator in the documentary puts it, “It’s an arms race in higher education.” Colleges are focused on recruiting students by offering more programs, more facilities, more prestige. 

And these things cost money. The film points to a previously tuition-free college that took out a $175 million loan in order to, essentially, keep up with the Joneses. Better facilities, programs and prestige allow schools to raise their tuition rates — which leads to large student loan debts, which leads us to question the value of college overall.

Does it still pay to go to college?

Again, it seems the instinctive answer might be: Don’t buy something you can’t afford. But an education is an investment in oneself, and a degree is an investment in your earning potential.

The data shows a degree still pays. According to the New York Times, Millennial grads who work full time earn about $17,500 more than their counterparts with a high school diploma alone. They are also more likely to be employed. A recent Pew Research report had similar findings.

But, of course, a salaried, full-time job is far from guaranteed. And, of course, there are people who put the statistics to shame, going on to become massively successful without a bachelor’s degree. But that may be a case of the proverbial exception and not the rule.

“Ivory Tower,” and Rossi himself, also address the philosophical value of a college education. I won’t get into it too much here, but I agree that there is value in going to college beyond the discussion of pay grade. But how can the value of education beyond pay grade be compared in real terms to the debt load students are undertaking? In short, does it still pay to go to college?

Changing the way we think about college

For now, questions seem to outnumber answers. In this series where we challenge the typical path that is supposed to lead to and measure financial success, college has long held an unassailable position as part of the equation. But it seems equally undeniable now that it’s a position we need to reevaluate.

The whole issue is going to need a larger solution. But on an individual level, Rossi suggests students and parents consider a few important things when picking a school. Instead of a school’s social ranking, we should look at:

  • Completion rates

  • Average student loan debt

  • Employment statistics

It seems that, as colleges become more like businesses, we have to reevaluate their worth along a similar vein. We don’t want to just pay for the “brand name” or the prestige. Formal education and consumerism seem to be overlapping more than ever. Education is still massively important. But now it seems we have to sift the marketing out of it, consider the rising costs more carefully, and make a decision that is truly based on investing in our future.

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There are 62 comments to "The “Ivory Tower”: Reconsidering the college investment".

  1. Beth says 06 August 2014 at 04:51

    Really interesting post, Kristin! IMHO, I think in many fields a university/college degree with always be a necessity, and there are so many learning opportunities outside of traditional post-secondary education.

    Though I don’t think the issue is all or nothing. Maybe people need to rethink HOW they get a degree. For instance, doing AP courses in high school or completing courses at a less expensive institution and transferring the credits. An increasing number of schools have co-op programs, and many have programs to support student entrepreneurs.

    And sometimes people need to rethink their priorities too. Do you really need a car? A big screen TV for your room? The latest fashions? A spring break vacation somewhere sunny? Right now the dorm room decor ads are starting to get to me — sure, spend a thousand dollars decorating for a room that’s already furnished and you’ll only spend a year in….

    Like the wedding industry, I wonder if the “college industry” is getting a bit out of hand. Just my two cents 😉

    • Jane says 06 August 2014 at 05:57

      I don’t know if this is the case anymore, but when I went to college in the nineties, my university made it very hard to use AP courses to get a leg up. For instance, you had to get a “5” in AP English to opt out of English Composition. Since I got mostly “4”s on AP tests, it made no difference and I had to re-take the courses in college. But this was an expensive private school. I’d be curious what other peoples’ experiences were.

      • Valerie says 06 August 2014 at 06:54

        I came in with 19 credits from AP classes – English, History, and Psychology in 2005. My extra credits didn’t get me out of specific classes (for various reasons), but they did save me a few elective classes and I was able to graduate a semester early.

        Unfortunately, I went to the second most expensive state school with no plan on how to pay for it (my parents never went to college, every adult I trusted told me student loan debt was good debt, and I had no concept of how loans actually worked), so I still came out with 60k in student debt.

      • JoeM says 06 August 2014 at 07:06

        Depends on the individual test for AP credit. Some classes need a 5, some need a 4. I think even a 3 can transfer as general credits.

        • lanthiriel says 06 August 2014 at 07:26

          I was lucky because I did Washington’s Running Start program my senior year of high school and went to community college for free. Between that and AP classes, I shaved 2 years off of my undergraduate degree. Basically I was able to complete a Masters degree for the same time and expense as a Bachelors. There are options out there to make college education more affordable if you know where to look.

      • Jen From Boston says 06 August 2014 at 07:16

        Some colleges are pickier about APs than others, and it isn’t necessarily across the board pickiness, either. I went to W&M, and I was amused that in order to get any AP credit for history you had to get a 5, whereas 4s on other APs were usually fine. I figured it’s because W&M is very up on their history department, especially Colonial history.

      • Katelyn says 06 August 2014 at 15:04

        Generally speaking the AP system is not a great way of gaining predictable college credit while in high school. If Running Start is an option, its much easier to work with than AP. A major drawback of AP is that the scores are assigned based on a bell curve, meaning a 3 is awarded to majority of students, and very few students earn a 5 (or a 1 for that matter). And, think about it, what students opt in to an AP program? Highly motivated, college-bound students. So a score of 3 on a test doesn’t necessarily indicate poor understanding of the material covered. Also, in what college class do you take 1 test that covers a FULL YEAR’s worth of course material? None. At most you are expected to take a test covering a quarter or semester’s worth of course work. And your grade for the quarter or semester is made up of a number of factors (homework, several midterms and a final, lab reports when applicable, etc.), not a single test. An AP student cannot afford to have test anxiety.

        If you are truly trying to get the most bang for your buck, enrolling in Running Start (i.e. a local community college while in high school) is a far better deal. All classes are guaranteed to transfer to colleges and universities in the same state the community college is located in and are usually accepted at colleges/universities around the country. And its a much closer academic experience to what you’ll have when you do enter a four year school.

        With that said, I don’t know that I’m a huge proponent of using Running Start to jump ahead 2 years into your four year program. At 18 I don’t think I was mature or self-aware enough to pick an academic program best suited to my natural talents and interests, and lifestyle goals. In fact, if I were to go back to school now (in my late 20’s) I would pick a totally different path than the one I eventually took. And if I had started my true college career at age 16 instead of 18 who knows how misguided my choices would have been!

    • Money Saving says 06 August 2014 at 10:25

      Great point Beth.

      I tutor on the side and am amazed at the number of classes that are taught electronically with powerpoints and blackboard. Why are students paying thousands of dollars a year for classes like this that are essentially “free” for the colleges to operate?

      I think the traditional brick and mortar colleges are going to go the way of circuit city in the coming years for certain types of degrees that can be largely “self taught.”

      • Dennis Frailey says 06 August 2014 at 11:36

        On line courses are not “free” for colleges to operate, at least if they are done properly. I know because I’ve taught in this mode for almost 40 years. The comment that it is “free” for colleges to offer on line courses is based on a misconception of where the cost is. (Hint: it isn’t the professor’s time giving the lecture, although that’s how most of the accounting is still handled because colleges are centuries behind in how they measure the contributions of their faculty members.) I’ll also accept that there are a lot of poorly taught courses out there because many colleges, especially those with “big names,” are more concerned about getting research grants than they are about teaching well. But for those that do focus on good teaching, here are some of the things that have to happen in order for a well-conceived on line course to be offered.

        Let’s look at the numbers for a course I’ve taught before, because a brand new course takes a lot more work. When I teach an on line course I must: 1) update the course notes and assignments each time the course is offered – this typically takes two weeks of effort at a minimum and often more if there are new concepts to blend into the material, new textbooks to evaluate, etc.; 2) give the actual lectures (although sometimes they can be recorded once and used multiple times) – this amounts to about 45 hours of labor, so technically it is one week of effort, although there’s actually more to it than that; 3) Grade student work – this is the largest part of the effort — approximately 6 hours per student for a semester’s work, so with a class of 20 students that’s another 3 weeks of labor. (I won’t count more for larger classes because my school provides a grader to help in that case). So we’re now up to 6 weeks of labor – per course – and a full teaching load is 4 courses per semester, so that’s 24 weeks of labor per semester. That’s roughly 6 months’ worth of work in a 4 month time period. And this doesn’t count other duties of faculty members, such as committee work and other university service.

        There are ways colleges and professors deal with this overload. For one thing, a professor may teach multiple sections of a course, which reduces the preparation time. For another, they may record the lecture once and make it available many times. Note: the result is that the grading part, the grungiest and most difficult part, but the part where the professor actually adds the most value if they do it well, remains even under the MOOC model.

        So the professor’s workload in an on line course is not much different from a conventional course. (I teach both kinds.) The university doesn’t need to use a classroom for an on line course but they do need a studio or classroom (depending on how professionally they record the classes) to record the lectures, so there isn’t much of a savings there. Then you have all of the recording gear and other equipment needed to record, edit, upload, catalog, respond to problems, and do other functions necessary to make it all work out.

        Yes, on

        • Beth says 06 August 2014 at 15:13

          YES! In addition to all the technology it takes to run the courses. Oh, and people to manage the software, update the systems, look after the security, etc.

          It still surprises me how many people think complex websites/learning platforms are “free”.

        • Brianne says 06 August 2014 at 19:34

          And don’t forget office hours and other time spent corresponding with students or moderating online discussion groups. A good professor devotes a lot of time to students outside of class which generally isn’t compensated for. I personally would love to teach community college on the side but you end up making much less than minimum wage because they only pay for hours in the classroom lecturing.

  2. Your Living Body says 06 August 2014 at 05:47

    Just another example of things not keeping pace with wages – oh, wait, I thought the economy has recovered?

  3. Artistic4 says 06 August 2014 at 06:20

    Great post!

    @Beth makes a great point–a lot of smart money decisions are made with *strategy.*

    @Jane I also went to a private college, however I got a 4 on the AP Psychology test, so the college credited me for that. I think it’s most common that a 4 would get you credit. A 5?! That’s a high standard!

    One of my friends teaches at a community college in the Pacific NW and the majority of his students are attending community college because they are a) fantastic schools and b) saving two years’ worth of college tuition. There are cooperations with specific universities there, too, so these students know their credits will be taken at those other universities when they transfer later. It’s working well for them!

    Also, if any of the teens I know are going to be applying to college, I will recommend to them that they get as many scholarships and grants as possible, and if I get a chance, to chat with their parents about student loan debt. You never know…

  4. tom says 06 August 2014 at 06:27

    When choosing a college and a degree, one must always consider the job market, the cost, and the starting/max salaries for the field.

    For example, if you are looking at electrical engineering, Stanford, MIT, and Michigan, to name a few, are all extremely expensive, but the massive demand and lifetime earning potential far outweigh the cost.

    On the other hand, if you are looking at social work, counseling, or the liberal arts, the job market is extremely limited and the lifetime earnings are, frankly, much lower than the tech fields. You may want to reconsider going to an Ivy League and, instead, try a state school. The name recognition may not be there, but you won’t be saddled with massive debt in the end.

    This advice can be a bit of a bitter pill. High school kids are often told to attend the best school they can get into, but, at some point, economic realities both during college and years after, must be taken into account.

    • Valerie says 06 August 2014 at 07:03

      This is embarrassing to admit, but also really important – keep in mind that all state schools are not equal as far as tuition goes! I was offered scholarships to Central, Western, and Eastern Michigan University and I decided that I needed to go to Michigan State with no scholarship at 15k/year because they had the best history program. For all that is holy, don’t be as dumb as I was.

  5. getagrip says 06 August 2014 at 06:28

    When I asked a financial aid “councelor” during a college meet and greet about what kinds of scholarships the school offered to help out one of my children, he immediately started talking about Parent Plus loans, and a variety of other loan options if the student couldn’t get enough loans on their own. I told him I was putting enough money towards their education already and I pushed for scholarships or grants the school offered or could recommend. He suggested I google that and didn’t suggest a single non-loan option.

    That told me upfront that it wasn’t about education, it wasn’t about helping students, and it’s all about bringing in the money. To some extent over the last seven years and dozens of college visits with my kids this was repeated at nearly every school with the only difference that the occasional private school talked about grants and scholarships bringing the prices the student would have to pay down to the same as an in state school level (e.g. total cost $45K, almost “everyone” qualifies for their “ABC grant” for $20K in aide, so now at $25K which is state school equiv). When I went to college many years ago and asked about aid, the couselor’s *first* looked for scholarships and grants for me, with loans the last resort. Now it’s the reverse because grants and scholarships affect the colleges bottom line, while loans are money they bring in. That’s what colleges have become, under all the claims of broadening minds, learning, etc. it’s all about the dollars. The professors and teachers suffer, while the administrative departments and engines churning in the dollars profit and grow to outnumber the actual faculty. During my tours I saw a lot of new gyms, new student centers, new athletic fields, new food courts, new convienences, new emphasis on study abroad, new dorms, new apartment housing, but I saw precious little new labs, new research facilities, new faculty, etc. On a few campuses, the new facilities were administrative buildings, not for professors or teaching departments, but for the administrative offices, you know, the folks bringing in the money.

    My concern is that it’s like watching a parent with an Adult spoiled child. Do you blame the Adult or the parent or both? Colleges have to survive, to survive they have to attract students, to attract students they have to have an edge or appear compentative. In other words, in some way they have no choice but to keep up with the Jones’ or shut their doors. Keeping up with Jones’ requires money. Where do they get the money from when states and donors are holding back? Students? If they find doubling the tuition causes gripes and groans, but they still have a massive surplus of freshman applications every year and people beating down the doors to get in, were they undercharging all those years? This is where the business model begins to kick in, and where I think it’s failing our institutions and populace.

    • JoeM says 06 August 2014 at 07:13

      Right. Every school talks about their generous “Financial Aid Packages” when half or more of it is made up of Federal Loans. That’s not a school package, that’s a government package facilitate through the school.

    • Jenn says 06 August 2014 at 11:51

      Your comment is right on! As parents, we have to realize that this is a business transaction. Know the lingo. Know that colleges are trying to get as much money as possible for your attendance. Make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

      It seems like too many people get so flattered at being accepted at some well-known private university that they’ll take out high dollar loans to make it happen. It’s sad.

  6. Kamado Jim says 06 August 2014 at 06:33

    As a couple wrestling with nearly a QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS in student loan debt, this issue is near and dear to my heart.

    This post really hits the nail on the head. While my wife is a specialized doctor that more or less HAD to take on significant loans to acquire the position she’s currently in, those who are taking out monster loans OR even smaller loans at higher interest rates really need to evaluate the employment landscape for their chosen profession.

    A lot of folks are going into college with blinders on and not fully realizing how the costs will accrue and even if they’re field of choice will allow them to pay the bills.

    If an institution has the ability to run all over you, make money off you, and bankrupt you, they’re going to without giving it a second thought. It’s just the way it is these days. It’s up to YOU to navigate all available opportunities and make well-educated decisions regarding college / employment options.

  7. Prudence Debtfree says 06 August 2014 at 06:39

    I used to think of post-secondary education as a must. I don’t anymore though. My daughter is dating a boy who has decided not to return to college, but to work full-time. In the past, I would have cringed at his decision, but now I support it. There are many different ways for people to navigate their education and career. The one-size-fits-all cookie cutter path of pursuing a degree right after high school often leads to the high student debt you mention, but also to uncertain job prospects and low job satisfaction – with a sense of obligation to stick it out because it cost so much to get there. Post secondary education should provide a forum in which to develop intellect and identify interest and talent, as well as a springboard from which to launch into a fulfilling career – not to mention a landing pad to come back to if and when career change becomes desirable. We’ve got to be wary of the notion of universities and colleges being all about prestige and keeping up with the Joneses.

    • Daria says 06 August 2014 at 19:15

      I found your comment interesting because my son got a business degree ( he has no debt because of scholarships and our savings) and is working in a job ( well known company) that he loves but it doesn’t require a degree. My ex sons in laws are working at the same company in the same position. One has no college at all and the other went to college for one year. All three make good money and good benefits. My son’s best friend dropped out of college and worked at the same company at a higher management level than my son. My son has resisted taking on a management position because he likes the hands on and doesn’t enjoy supervising people.

      • Prudence Debtfree says 06 August 2014 at 20:25

        Wow! Proof that when it comes to “education leading to position”, there is no formula. The good news is that your son has found a job that he likes. Even better, he has the wisdom to say “no” to a promotion because he values his job satisfaction over his salary and status. I’d say you have earned the right to be a proud mom!

  8. DreamChaser57 says 06 August 2014 at 06:44

    Superb thought-provoking post.
    I will start with the proposition that a college education has intrinsic value beyond salary; it encourages critical thinking skills, cultivates a social consciousness, expands your social network, it levels the playing field in relationships (people often stay in dysfunctional soul draining relationships because they do not have the capacity to earn an income).
    However, this discussion should have more depth than just presenting bi-polar opposites.
    Junior colleges are the still the best deal in town. Pre-requisites can be earned there before moving onto a more expensive college. People have unique learning styles. Some people are only going to flourish where the student to teacher ratio is low. In some higher education institutions, you are merely a cog in a wheel, professors are a celebrity and you can only hope to engage the Teacher Assistant with a question.
    What about a place that is culturally affirming? A lot of places still have antiquated diversity policies (btw which are slowly being eroded and are subject to a lot of political pressure) – there might be in a class of 100 with only five people of color (ie., my graduate school) – and the abilities of those are subtly questioned. It takes a tremendous amount of psychological stamina to endure that.
    People who are mechanically inclined and have a lot of manual dexterity might opt for a trade school. A client shared with me the other evening he makes a $100K as an operating engineer in the municipal water plant. He has a Master’s Degree – but the market cannot match that salary.
    There would be a incalculable macroeconomic impact if student loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy proceedings. The federal government guarantees those loans.
    Also there are some schools that prey upon uninformed demographics….University of Phoenix, Everest. I have seen where they take a young person that does not have a high school education and try to present topics people learn in biology to be a medical assistant? It is loathsome. Most students drop out due to the advanced curriculum, but they still may have taken out tens of thousands in loans.
    Lastly, people also use student loans to support an unsustainable lifestyle. They somehow think that being a student is so ‘virtuous’ that they can forego getting a job and it will pay off in the end. That notion is preposterous. People use student loans to pay their rent, utilities, purchase a car.
    Also, I have $130K in student loans. Next month, DH and I are leaving the trendy part of town where the rent is $1300 a month for the boring predictable suburbs for $700 a month in rent. You have to make hard choices if you want to pay off the debt you incurred – plain and simple. Alas, incessant whining (interest rates, not being subject to discharge) and pointless contemplation which often lead to ‘paralysis analysis’ are not a hard choices.
    On my way to work – um, no time to proofread! Sorry.

  9. Ray says 06 August 2014 at 06:48

    In my life graduate school has been the evil temptation. After three years of trying to find decent paying work after college (and I mean reeeeally trying), my partner went to law school in hopes of, well, you know. He’s just graduated with a lifetime of debt and can only find clerking work so far (although *fingers crossed* something might be offered in a couple months). We even moved to a new city because we understood it to be a booming town. I myself have an expensive graduate degree with only a modest salary. I would strongly discourage anyone from trying to increase their income through another degree, unless it’s engineering!

    • Urban Gardener says 06 August 2014 at 16:44

      The problem with grad school is that so many jobs require at least Master’s degrees, at least in my field (Fine Arts). More than half of my $40K student loan was from grad school, and I can honestly say that 90% of what I know about doing my job, I learned on the job, not at school. But I likely wouldn’t have gotten my job without it. Took me 11 years to pay off that damn loan, because I put priority on that over saving for retirement. Now I’m making up for that.

  10. Adam says 06 August 2014 at 06:55

    They’re certainly not the only ones to blame, but I lay a lot of blame at the feet of the institutions themselves. As mentioned, there is an “arms race” among universities to provider bigger, better, newer facilities across the board.

    At my school, in the four years I was there, a new rec center and student union were opened (each with associated fees, whether you used them or not), and a massive undertaking to renovate all of the dorms began. They also began requiring that students stay on campus their first two years in school (luckily I was already off-campus before that requirement went into effect). This meant building more dorms. Staying on campus doubles the amount needed per year, and is about twice as expensive as living off-campus.

    Add to that the fact that schools will raise fees (not tuition, but fees) to pay for athletic upgrades and coach salaries. A recent example is VCU raising their fees by 33% (!!) in a single year in order to keep their Men’s Basketball coach, Shaka Smart, at the school instead of losing him to a bigger, more prestigious program. At my school, fees made up about 48% of the total annual cost, not including Room & Board.

    Universities are no longer just places of learning, they are self-contained cities, and students and their parents are the taxpayers.

    • Adam says 06 August 2014 at 07:37

      How could I forget to add that nearly the entire first year of my undergraduate education was useless?

      I took rehashes of classes I took in High School (Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, Literature, etc.). I learned nothing new in these classes, and I didn’t find the material any more difficult, and yet they were required for my degree (Management Information Systems), with no way to test out of them.

      Get rid of most of the classes that are not centered around the student’s chosen Major and don’t re-teach classes taught in High School, and you could cut the total bill by 25% immediately, plus add another full year of earning, since you’d graduate in three years instead of four.

      A well-rounded education is a great idea in Primary and Secondary schooling, but Post-Secondary is supposed to be about specialization.

      • Jane says 06 August 2014 at 09:55

        “Get rid of most of the classes that are not centered around the student’s chosen Major”

        But that violates one of the basic values of post-secondary education, namely to get a well-rounded education. In essence, you are arguing for a college system that mimics the trade schools. Be careful what you wish for, since society relies in many respects on a versatile populace. Also, what happens if your field is outsourced or rendered obsolete by technology?

        Did you really learn nothing new in those classes at the college level? Either you went to an incredibly advanced high school or a really bad college or university. Those subjects at the high school versus the college level are usually an entirely different ballgame.

        Having said that, I looked into getting a nursing degree at a local community college, and they expected me to take prerequisites in literature and history and would not accept my B.A. courses in literature and my Ph.D. courses in history. That definitely warrants a facepalm.

        • Daria says 06 August 2014 at 19:27

          My daughter went to college overseas (the UK). Her classes were only in her majors (Spanish and Italian). Normally her degree would have taken her only 3 years but because she majored in two languages, it required an extra year. She came back fluent. She got a good job right away when she returned to the US. You can become well rounded by reading and by being involved in activities in your community.

        • Jen From Boston says 07 August 2014 at 08:31

          It really depends on what you want out of the higher educarion system. Our colleges and universities are considered some of the best in the world because of the liberal arts. I just read a series about Chinese students attending US colleges, specifically Boston University: http://www.bu.edu/today/2014/china/

          One of the key reasons why so many Chinese students come here is because they get a well-rounded education here and study a range of subjects. It helps fuel innovation that they take back to China. The series is a bit long, but I found it fascinating.

  11. JoeM says 06 August 2014 at 07:12

    The institutions and government are really at fault here. Offering nearly limitless loans to 18-24 year olds too financially illiterate to understand the impact of their decisions 2-5-10 years from now is ridiculous. However, those schools will just keep sucking up that loan paid tuition, expanding administrative roles, upgrading entire campuses, and adding ridiculous perks for students – all to stay ahead or with the pack in the Higher Education Arms Race.

    Students should be able to default on loans, leaving university’s on the hook. What a shock that would be to the system.

    Student loan interest rates should also vary by major. Engineering gets a 2.0% rate, Architecture gets a 7.0%, and everyone else falls somewhere in between. This would help students see that there is an increased risk finding gainful employment, but not enough of a deterrent to stop from someone studying their passion (I graduated in 2011 and my highest federal loan rate was 6.55%).

  12. Colleen says 06 August 2014 at 07:15

    While I agree with the theories behind this article – college *shouldn’t* be required, nor should it cost what it does – the reality is that traditional employers are still looking for a degree, first and foremost. Many HR sorting programs will automatically reject a resume, sight unseen, without a line item for it.

    At 37, I’ve never gotten a degree. But I am realizing that I am not employable in my current job anywhere other than my current employer. I may have worked my way up to my position, but other companies are not interested in an applicant without a degree.

    By all means, let’s take a look at college, and why we think it’s necessary to saddle students with thousands of dollars of debt. But change isn’t going to happen until the recruiters change, and that’s not going to happen until the generation of those HR recruiters changes.

    • E.B. says 07 August 2014 at 09:02

      Perhaps we just need to hold out hope that eventually the recruiters won’t have degrees because college became too expensive and unnecessary, and the whole psyche of recruiting will change along with it!

  13. Andrew says 06 August 2014 at 07:36

    There are so many problems with going to junior college with the intention to transfer to a traditional college later.

    Credit transfer policies at good 4-year colleges are usually extremely restrictive. They want the vast majority of credits to be earned at their own institution.

    In many of the high-paying business, engineering, and computer science career fields, the entry level job market is extremely competitive. Candidates are expected to have completely internships after their sophomore and junior years. Junior college transfers who transfer after their sophomore year have already missed the boat, in many cases.

    The best plan, usually, is to find the best public 4-year college for your career field (at which you can pay resident tuition) and to start networking very early on to find out what it takes to get hired in your career field.

  14. Kenny says 06 August 2014 at 07:36

    College is not an option, and I strongly feel that 5-10 years from now, there will be articles in all magazines asking “Is Bachelors Degree enough for survival”.

    My kids are going through college and I am still a very involved ‘helicopter parent’.

    College Education planning has to be done when kids are born, and sucker the grandparents and relatives to put money into the fund (as much as possible, barring not-so-good-relationships)! Either way, parents should be planning for it.

    My kids are at State University and have $21K to $31K per year per child in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Choose university NOT based on the ‘good feeling’, ‘size/type of campus’, ‘location/distance from home’ etc, but on the Fee Structure, Scholarships, Availability of Internships, Openness of Jobs, Potential of Jobs around with the degree chosen, and number of APs granted. In our case, AP with scores of 3 were granted with a mini-test, and all universities were different (some said NO to any AP, and our univ said yes to AP 3 or above)! My sons knocked out approx 28 to 42 credits off the listing and were able to add a minor within the 4 year program.

    Even MORE important is to monitor the progress of the classes with the Advisor since they will add new and non-relevant courses to the list making it more than 120 credits today. As parents, we shop on everything, and then do NOT monitor the number of credits being wasted by our kids or advisors. I have so many parents coming and asking if that happened to me. It did NOT since we put a 4 year plan together in the first 3 months of the kid entering college, and every 6 months we update the spreadsheet.

    I pay 100% for my kids undergrad college education (used prepaid college plan) so it is critical for me to monitor the expense, since each course is worth $1600. And, $1600 is a lot of money to waste since the advisor meant “x” based on some comment, and he should have recommended “y”. Advisors are ‘business salespeople’ all the way. They are no different than any other “salespeople”, and 80% of parents I know leave it to them for giving guidance and course selections for our kids! It is almost like allowing our 19 year old to go an buy whatever $5K-$10K used car (every semester) they would like to buy and negotiating it by themselves. Would you allow that?

    Everyone should prepay for college education. In my case, I was late starting, but for each child, I am in the process of saving approx $21K over the 4 year period. Unreal! So, for both of kids who are at the Univ right now, it is a $42K savings (versus current pricing) just for planning ahead. This number might go up since they are still in college and will be graduating in 2015 and 2016 so I do not know fees for those years yet.

    Kenny

  15. Jen From Boston says 06 August 2014 at 07:44

    Here are my initial thoughts:

    With so many more people getting undergraduate degrees the value of a bacehlor’s degree has decreased. It’s like we have degree inflation. In the past, an undergraduate degree was pretty valuable, but it’s not as valuable as it used to be, and now there’s extra pressure to get a graduate degree or advanced certification. At least that is what I’m seeing in the financial management industry. That said, having a degree is valuable because it increases your options.

    As for the cost of college, the arms race is ridiculous. Undergrads do NOT need a highrise apartment with their own bedroom, but that’s the sort of dorm colleges are building. It’s completely unnecessary for their education, but that’s what money is getting spent on. Add to this that at least in VA less government is going to the public universities. When I attended, 40% of W&M’s budget came from the state. Now it’s down to 10% or less. The college has to make up the difference somehow.

    I’m not sure if I would do the traditional 4 year on-campus route now. I know I would want to, but I honestly don’t know if my family could afford it. On the plus side, UMass has beefed up its status so that would be a good option. (I was one of those top students who was shooting for the Ivies and similar schools.) They’ve added an honors program that mimics the Ivies in terms of class size, so I wouldn’t be as worried about becoming a number at a large state school, and I’d save money in travelling to and from campus. I could also take an online class over the summer to reduce the time to get a degree without having to shell out $$ for an off-campus apartment.

    Would I enroll at a community college first and then transfer? I don’t know, but that’s an option. However, I would say to any student planning on doing that to make sure their credits will transfer, ditto for any courses taken over the summer at a different college. It would stink to go through that effort only to have to re-take those classes 😛

    Finally, college isn’t for everyone, but we’ve pushing it as if it is. I strongly believe that if a student wants to go to college they should be able to – it bothers me when I hear stories about people who want to go to college but can’t because of various roadblocks (money, family circumstances, etc.). However, making someone go to college who doesn’t want is just a wast of time and money, IMO. But, we do need to provide a real avenue for those people to make a living. Mike Rowe, host of World’s Dirtiest Jobs, gave testimony to Congress about increasing vocational education in this country, and how we’re not producing enough tradespeople: http://www.mikeroweworks.com/2011/05/mike-rowes-oral-testimony-to-the-senate-commerce-committee/

    I think he has a point. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were issues with financing an education at a trade school, either.

    So, in summary, higher education is getting diluted because of spending money on stuff that’s not needed, too many students who are just getting the degree to check off the box, like a high school diploma, and inadequate government support. And we lack a more comprehensive post-high school education plan.

    • Debi says 06 August 2014 at 09:30

      I’d like to emphasize “make sure the credits will transfer” from a community college. Dont’ take the word of the community college, check with the college to which you want to ultimately transfer the credits. Know the parameters and get it in writing. Sadly I know too many young people who are sold the “sure our credits will transfer” line of BS only to find out that they’ve wasted all their time and money when the second school will not accept the credits.

    • Rail says 06 August 2014 at 11:45

      We have had this discussion many times here at GRS so I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but degree inflation and tuition inflation have gone hand in hand in the U.S. I’m a Gen-Xer (1970) and when I was in H.S. it was all about EVERYONE getting a BS,BA,PhD,etc. in computers. Computers, computers, computers. That’s all we heard. Now friends of mine with degrees are making less than me with my loewly A.A. in agriculture. Jen is right about the U.S. having a shortage of people who can actually do things with their hands in this country. Somehow, someone started the rumor in the 70’s that if you toil with your hands you are somehow of a lesser class and not worth as much to society. Well, we are not all cut out to be Doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs, and having a house to live in, electricity, plumbing, fire protection, police, paved roads, railroads, etc. is pretty important to a Western Civilization.
      Now I know we need universities for medical training, engineering, etc. so I’m not some Luddite that wants to live in a cave, nor do I want to get into a class warfare poopstorm on the net, but as has already been stated the fact that colleges are costing people great amounts of money for a dubious payback should be of great concern to all of us. Thanks GRS.
      Cheers!

  16. Kayla says 06 August 2014 at 08:03

    Ironically my parent’s view was quite the opposite. They were broke, but didn’t see college as valuable. I went anyway, and while I am up to my eyeballs in student debt, I do make more than both of them at 25 than they do as they’re about to retire…so I see very well how the issue is two fold. What is the breaking point?

    Honestly, I don’t think I would have ever not gone to college. For some, including myself, it just isn’t an option. I love education and it’s something I’ve always wanted. On the other hand, if someone would have told me I would have ended up with $85k in debt (rather than the $40-50k for a computer science degree that they told me about when I signed up for it all), I would have thought twice about going right out of HS and taking on so many loans. I would have much rather worked my way through it, and gotten a degree as I paid up front as much as I could afford. A friend of mine did that for only her first two years, and now, with a very similar degree, will be graduating at 26 with less than half the debt!

  17. imelda says 06 August 2014 at 09:35

    How many times are we going to have this discussion?

    Anyway, in my field (human rights, international NGOs), a master’s degree is becoming more and more the norm.

  18. tw says 06 August 2014 at 10:18

    My daughter is going back for her Masters in Education – so that she can relocate to make $45,000 a year, up from the 30,000 she gets now. She is $50,000 in debt combined for her undergrad and grad studies, so far.

    Sometimes I wonder about the cost to benefit on this – does it still help to be that far in debt and will you be able to gain employment that will recoup that loss and make that much more of a lifetime earning difference on the other side.

    I am just a HS Grad here – earn $70,000+ a year in the water and waste water field. I started with an entry level job in the field, studied and passed the State certifications, and gained experience, and eventually was promoted to Supervisor. Over most of my 22 year career I have been $40-50,000 a year

    You can go farther with a degree in environmental management or engineering and working in this field.

    My green operators, with passing of certifications, can go from $30,000 to $50,000+ a year in just 4-5 years.

    Everybody drinks and washes with water and everybody flushes and that will never change.

  19. Carla says 06 August 2014 at 10:28

    For me college was not an option. My mother was in the process if divorcing my (drug addict/alcoholic) father. Also our fundamentalist religion was the key to our salvation – I wish I was joking. My job was the finish high school, go straight to work and practice my religion.

    I did go though a…ummm…a 18-month course but as of last month, that diploma is officially a piece of paper in the state of California. A $15K piece of paper. In my defense, in 1996 there wasn’t much push back or even information on for profit schools. It was a “good option” for us ghetto kids and better than spending your life working at Lucky’s.

    My mother recently retired after earning a great salary as an RN. When she went to school, the only requirement was a 2 year nursing degree at a medical college so she didn’t understand the need for a 4-year degree aside for the other reasons why college wasn’t optional.

    I learned all of skills I needed to do administrative work, even at the “H” school and fortunately landed many great jobs during the dot com boom but now I feel the pain of not having a real degree. My work experience is what keeps me afloat.

    I’m not a Millennial, I’m a Generation Xer and in the process of going back to school on a pay-as-you-go plan. I don’t know if this decision will hurt me more in the long run but its better than doing nothing.

  20. Amanda says 06 August 2014 at 10:43

    Graduated from high school with honors and from a well-known public institution with honors (summa cum laude, to be exact).

    I worked full-time most of the time I was in school, and I still graduated with about $22,000 in debt, mostly because I also had to pay for my own housing, food, medical expenses, insurances, and so on. Of course, the irony in that is the more I needed to work to help pay for costs of living, the more financial aid I disqualified myself from because of my unusually high salary (whew, I made almost $13,000, which means I can pay for half of next year’s tuition myself). I got stuck in an unfortunate cycle when my parents didn’t realize having a high school job and a savings account when applying for financial aid would actually hurt me more than help me. Throw in the fact my dad was alive and working during the year that FAFSA was looking at (i.e., the year before my senior year of high school), and you have a less than awesome situation, even after we tried to work everything out with FAFSA after my dad died.

    In any event, I graduated college with honors, and I found myself going to graduate school… Of course, then I found myself with another $2,000 in medical bills during my first semester. Since I also wasn’t able to work during graduate school, due to the erratic nature of my practicum, I found myself needing to drop out for financial reasons (i.e., I couldn’t rationalize the $50,000+ it was going to cost me for $30,000 in tuition and around $10,000 per year for living expenses for two years).

    Now, I have $30,000 in debt ($8,000 for one semester of graduate school + previous debt) and a worthless bachelor’s degree. I make minimum wage, and I can’t afford to get the degree that would make my bachelor’s degree “worth it.” I am an excellent student, and I would do great in graduate school; however, for a professional degree (as opposed to a PhD or something), there is almost no funding except loans, no matter your salary.

    My father died of cancer when I was 17, leaving my mom a single parent of six children, of whom I am the oldest. Can’t ask for help there, and I wouldn’t expect it.

    I, for one, wish I wouldn’t have went to college. I realize my one little example of college not working out isn’t enough to derail the usefulness of college for everyone, but it certainly felt good to vent about it!

  21. A0 says 06 August 2014 at 11:07

    Thank you for posting this article! What a great (complex, difficult, personal,and national) topic this is.
    I have noticed during my college years (over a decade ago) that there was a real push to get more women in engineering, and I was glad for it at the time, given I was in the single digit percentages of female engineering students at my large state university. I worked with a dept to create events to get women interested in choosing engineering for coursework. I learned something important watching the girls (and guys who also showed) at the events: Not everyone needs to be an engineer. Not everyone wants to be an engineer, not everyone can best utilize their particular talents being an engineer, and to try to convince them otherwise does them a disservice in the long run (think wasted time at school, degraded confidence if they aren’t doing well in their coursework, disinterest in the topic and all the apathy that builds up over time…).
    Take that and compare it to the big push we see these days for college attendance: we hear that going to college, getting that bachelors, (then maybe getting that Masters – the joke in school was you got your Engineering degree so you could then go get an MBA and make some real money). We’re told over and over and over that EVERYONE needs to go to college when infact, pushing everyone to go to college renders higher education kind of pointless. I am not saying it’s rendered completely useless, but it dilutes the course content – no longer are you teaching students who really ardently desire to learn more indepth knowledge or research new developments in their chosen field, now you are teaching a room full of people who need this class to check this box to ultimately check the degree box – because they think they need a degree. My point here is that college has become a system or process you have to go through to become ‘successful’, instead of one of the options you could chose based on what you’re interested in actually doing in order to realize your version of success. And given the high cost of college (at least if you go through with loans) you might be doing yourself more of a disservice to go to college versus pursueing some alternate form of education or going to work immediately.
    The ideas the more girls should be in engineering and everyone should go to college have merit, and good intent. The reality is that the decision to pursue either of those paths is far more profoundly personal. HOwever to make those types of decisions a young person needs to have the right tools: self awareness of what they like to do, what they are interested in, the acumen to make the hard business decisions about what they can afford in the pursuance of their educational goals and the personal confidence to take the path less traveled should they decide not to go to college to get a degree (not caring about keeping up with the joneses?). How many high school seniors do you know with the above combinations of abilities?
    Whew. I hven’t even touched on the tuition – but you’re right on. My alma mater tuition sky rocketed after I graduated, and they added all sorts of fancy new dorms, sports buildings, and other campus structures but I don’t know the state of their actual research departments. I really feel for kids who have to go to college on loans. Some are lazy (my college roommate…never could find the time for a job, but loan applications? no problem) Some are uniformed and niave, some are just caught in the mill, but I feel (to varying degrees) for those caught in the situation no job or low paying job and high debt load. That’s not a great way to start adult life post college.

    • Rail says 06 August 2014 at 14:18

      Amen! You hit the nail on the head. College degrees; just to have college degrees on a resume are crazy. Yet this is what we have bought into in the U.S. Cheers!

      • stellamarina says 06 August 2014 at 17:00

        There are many businesses now that just expect you to have a college degree to get any management position. They are not so interested in what the degree is for or from where but just the fact that you have a degree shows that you have gone through the maturing process.

  22. Dennis Frailey says 06 August 2014 at 11:43

    As I see it we are looking at this all wrong. College is an opportunity. One can waste that opportunity (unfortunately, many do) or one can take advantage of it. When a student goes to college in the hope that the degree will result in a better paying job, he or she should realize that the value of a college education is what you make of it. If you focus on the easiest courses in order to get the highest grades (or have the most time for recreation), you are squandering an opportunity that people in many parts of the world would sacrifice much for. When an employer evaluates a college graduate, the grade point average, degree and institution may determine who gets in the door but the individual must fend or him- or herself from that point on. If you take advantage of what college has to offer, you will enrich your life and your career options. If you don’t you may end up with unbearable student loan obligations and little to show for it.

    Another consideration is whether the benefit of the college degree is worth the financial obligation one is accepting with one’s student loans. Few students really look at this because they usually don’t have a very good financial education (it should be mandatory in high school, but it isn’t in most of them). I think student loans should be capped based on the earning potential of the degree one is seeking and how well one’s grades are as one goes along. that fact alone might shake up some students into realizing that, financially speaking, the degree they want isn’t worth the cost — or that they had better buckle down if they want to get a bigger loan next semester.

  23. Big-D says 06 August 2014 at 11:47

    I am a college professor, so I see this first hand. Colleges used to be a place for young people to go, to get educated, and move on to life. What I see as a shift in society that colleges are now the “training” place for companies to get their recent grads, already trained in the appropriate field. Basically what I see is the Bachelor’s degree is the new High School diploma of the 1950’s. Since that is the case, colleges now have to keep up with the latest technologies, latest everything to get ahead of businesses, and train people who are going to graduate in 3-4 years. This costs MASSIVE amounts of money. Teaching history or music or theater is cheap. Teaching computer science or and STEM program costs tons of money.

    As pointed out in the article, universities have had to change to become all things to all people. When I was younger, if I wanted to be a teacher, I went to XYZ state university because they had the program. If I wanted engineering I went to ZYX state university because they had the program. Now both ZYX and XYZ have engineering programs, and compete.

    Expansion of degrees, and not getting an education, but training are the two reasons why university tuition have gone up so much in cost.

    • Cory says 06 August 2014 at 12:27

      “Expansion of degrees, and not getting an education, but training are the two reasons why university tuition have gone up so much in cost.”

      …and also “administrative bloat”

      • Big-D says 06 August 2014 at 13:02

        That goes hand in hand with expansion of degrees. The more degrees, the more admin people you have to have to run behind the scenes as well as instructors, grad assistants, labs, classrooms, and equipment to teach.

    • Chuckie G. says 06 August 2014 at 13:21

      Why does teaching computer science or STEM cost tons money? Is it just the labs or something else?

      Even if taken at face value, there are certainly cost increases coming from other places. From fine dining options to world class gymnasiums, Old School U. needs to reprioritize. Consumers are going to become more savvy and become weary of such offerings. Universities will have to start making sure the benefit they provide is commensurate with the cost. In short, provide value for the money.

      Heaven knows the millennials, myself included, are quite chapped at the bill we got upon graduation. There is no way I am going to let my kids get wooed by marketing that panders to the whims of an 18 year old (e.g. LOOK AT OUR NEW STUDENT UNION!!! WE HAVE MOVIE THEATERS ON CAMPUS!!!!) and as a result saddles them with insurmountable debt for years to come.

      • Big-D says 06 August 2014 at 13:35

        The reason teaching STEMs cost more is typically labs and equipment needed to train students on the most modern technology. You cannot teach students on old depreciated Cisco Routers, when they are expected to join the workforce and know the latest technology. This goes as well with any STEM field (including medical fields).

        The expansion of degrees, being all things to all people all go hand in hand. Thus they create all this new stuff around campus to make them look cooler to ONE UP the other universities to make sure they have everything a student can want (movie theaters, sports arenas, student unions, cafeterias from Wolfgang Puck, etc.)

      • Dennis Frailey says 07 August 2014 at 14:05

        There’s another reason that STEM courses cost more. Their faculty cost more! A computer science or electrical engineering or mathematics professor can earn a lot more outside the university than, say, a history professor. Not only that, the STEM professor can probably bring in more lucrative research grants. In order to attract them the university must offer more money.

  24. phoenix1920 says 06 August 2014 at 14:18

    I like the conclusion about rethinking a college’s criteria to completion rates, average student loan debt, and employment statistics. These are what matter the most–whether it is college or vo-tech.

    I fear articles that promote the idea that kids today don’t “need” college but then don’t take a look at the current trends in high schools and attitudes today. My husband, who has taught high school for years, has really battled with the schools and its constant message from the admins and counselors to the students that college is the ONLY way to go. There is a whole new era of kids graduating from college who think a person’s intellect and ability is tied up in whether they further their formal education after high school–if you stop formal education after high school, you are either not intelligent or lazy.

    Whether one agrees with that perspective or not, perception can often create reality. If enough people think in that manner, it will be harder and harder to get a great job without the additional education. And it will become a sore spot for those who lack that education. My dh’s mom never got a college education and she is very self-conscious about it. It has affected her self worth a lot.

  25. Gizmosdad says 06 August 2014 at 18:03

    I’m glad that I’m not a college student (or the parent of one) now. I remember in the late 1980s, being mad when the local college raised the full-time tuition rates one semester from $980 to $1050.. Mind you, I was making $4.35/hr, but still

  26. Julie says 06 August 2014 at 21:23

    I always cringe when I read or hear the words “good college.” My sisters and I all lived at home and went to our local JC and then the local state college. We all make 6 digit salaries. Many children of friends have done the same, and depending on the practicality of the major, most are doing fine with their state school education and have little to no debt.

  27. Nelson says 07 August 2014 at 06:47

    I’ve always looked at the college degree = more success dynamic another way. I don’t think it’s the college degree that matters so much. Sure, if you’re going into a specific field, of course it matters You can’t become a nurse or an engineer without one.

    But what separates one communications major from another? Or what separates a history major from a high school grad? Is it the piece of paper?

    I think that a big reason for college graduates outperforming is simple. College grads go to (and complete) college because they’re smart, ambitious, hard working, etc. Those aren’t the types of qualities we normally associate with people who stop learning the minute the minute high school ends.

    Thus, college is more of the effect. The root causes are the reason why I know plenty of high school grads (myself included) who have successful careers and good finances.

  28. Dennis Frailey says 07 August 2014 at 14:12

    Here’s another angle on the subject. I’ve done a lot of advising for Asian students trying to get into graduate school in the US. Why? Because my sister teaches English as a second language, often to students in Asia trying to get into schools in the US. The interesting angle is that many of these students and their families and governments (who pay for them to come) are really hung up on “reputation”. I had one student who said his father would only pay for him if he could get into Harvard. He had been accepted at Carnegie Mellon and Purdue in Mechanical Engineering. I tried to explain that these were excellent schools and probably better choices for ME than Harvard anyway. But his father wouldn’t budge. So I pointed out that the first man on the moon had been a Purdue student. That won him over! (And when he got to Purdue he soon figured out that it was a very tough program.) I suspect that many students coming from outside the US are accustomed to a world where there are only one or two good schools in the country. We are blessed with hundreds if not thousands of really good schools. It is for this reason that I pretty much ignore surveys of the “top 100” schools in anything – they are based on research reputation among faculty members, not quality of teaching.

  29. Jane says 08 August 2014 at 15:36

    Don’t forget that one reason to get that degree is to get an education. Not job training. An education enriches, and informs peoples lives. And an educated mind IS more likely to make more money – because of the education.

  30. Lila says 08 August 2014 at 17:26

    I don’t think there is one cut and dry answer for everyone. I’ve completed college so far without any debt, I’m one credit shy of earning my associate degree but its been hard.

    I really want to go to university after community college but I refuse to go into debt for it, I’m not sure what I will do.

    I have known people that have bypassed college by learning to code and they’ve gotten jobs without college degrees but IT is a different field from finance, healthcare and the law.

  31. Nick says 10 August 2014 at 08:57

    Somehow we have lost track of the original purpose of an education – to build thinking citizens capable of behaving intelligently in a complex and changing world.

    Because it has historically been the case that those educated people tend to do better than those without an education, we have somehow put the cart before the horse. Now most people see college as a form of ‘job training’ and if it isn’t lining you up for a job it is a waste of time and money.

    Because it is sold as ‘job training’ it has become possible to charge a lot more for the same education (and in many cases a poorer quality education). And a great many of our most vulnerable (young) people swallow the hook and go into massive debt without really knowing why.

    Unlike most parents, I intend to encourage my kids to take a year or two (at the very least) to get their feet under them after high school before going to college. If they want to rush off I won’t stop them, but I won’t be pressuring them. My oldest kid, I suspect, will be better suited as a carpenter than a lawyer anyways – but ultimately it is about what he wants to do.

    Many of the people I knew in college had no idea why they were there, and were basically wasting their own money and time, and the cash of their parents as well.

    College can be excellent, and not just for job training. But it is a HUGE cost in time and money, and should not be undertaken lightly.

  32. Emma says 14 August 2014 at 12:55

    Studies keep showing that for most, college IS a good investment. But one needs to stay out of schools one can’t afford, and we should pick our majors wisely.

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