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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Beth
Beth
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Jane
Jane
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

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
Valerie
5 years ago
Reply to  Jane

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… Read more »

JoeM
JoeM
5 years ago
Reply to  Jane

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
lanthiriel
5 years ago
Reply to  JoeM

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
Jen From Boston
5 years ago
Reply to  Jane

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
Katelyn
5 years ago
Reply to  Jane

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… Read more »

Money Saving
Money Saving
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

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
Dennis Frailey
5 years ago
Reply to  Money Saving

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… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Frailey

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
Brianne
5 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Frailey

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.

Your Living Body
Your Living Body
5 years ago

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

Artistic4
Artistic4
5 years ago

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… Read more »

tom
tom
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Valerie
Valerie
5 years ago
Reply to  tom

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.

getagrip
getagrip
5 years ago

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… Read more »

JoeM
JoeM
5 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

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
Jenn
5 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

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.

Kamado Jim
Kamado Jim
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Daria
Daria
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree
5 years ago
Reply to  Daria

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!

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Ray
Ray
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Urban Gardener
Urban Gardener
5 years ago
Reply to  Ray

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.

Adam
Adam
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Adam
Adam
5 years ago
Reply to  Adam

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… Read more »

Jane
Jane
5 years ago
Reply to  Adam

“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… Read more »

Daria
Daria
5 years ago
Reply to  Jane

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
Jen From Boston
5 years ago
Reply to  Jane

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.

JoeM
JoeM
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Colleen
Colleen
5 years ago

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… Read more »

E.B.
E.B.
5 years ago
Reply to  Colleen

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!

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Kenny
Kenny
5 years ago

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.… Read more »

Jen From Boston
Jen From Boston
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Debi
Debi
5 years ago

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
Rail
5 years ago

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,… Read more »

Kayla
Kayla
5 years ago

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… Read more »

imelda
imelda
5 years ago

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.

tw
tw
5 years ago

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+… Read more »

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
5 years ago

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… Read more »

A0
A0
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Rail
Rail
5 years ago
Reply to  A0

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
stellamarina
5 years ago
Reply to  Rail

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.

Dennis Frailey
Dennis Frailey
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Big-D
Big-D
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Cory
Cory
5 years ago
Reply to  Big-D

“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
Big-D
5 years ago
Reply to  Cory

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.
Chuckie G.
5 years ago
Reply to  Big-D

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… Read more »

Big-D
Big-D
5 years ago
Reply to  Chuckie G.

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,… Read more »

Dennis Frailey
Dennis Frailey
5 years ago
Reply to  Chuckie G.

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.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Gizmosdad
Gizmosdad
5 years ago

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

Julie
Julie
5 years ago

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.

Nelson
Nelson
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Dennis Frailey
Dennis Frailey
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Jane
Jane
5 years ago

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.

Lila
Lila
5 years ago

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.

Nick
Nick
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Emma
Emma
5 years ago

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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