Laid Low by Higher Education

This is becoming a growing wave of like opinion:

“We have too many college seats,” [former Keene State College instructor Craig] Brandon, a Surry resident, says in an interview. “We don’t need that many college graduates. The reality is that we overeducate people, which would be OK if it were free, but it’s not free.” Parents lose years of careful savings. Students go into debt. Opportunity costs are immeasurable.
The alleged wage premium — the extra lifetime money college graduates make compared to those who stop at high school — is both exaggerated and shrinking. One student graduates high school and goes straight into the work force. Another starts college, but drops out after a few semesters. A third takes the actual average of five years to get a four-year degree and graduates with the average $25,000 student loan debt. Even if the college grad has a better-paying job — an outcome not at all guaranteed — years of tuition, living expenses, deferred income and now student loan payments put her in a deep hole. Five or even 20 years after leaving high school, which classmate is furthest ahead?
Brandon describes the vast majority of colleges as “subprime,” which he defines as any school that has lowered its standards to the point at which almost anyone can pass. There’s a college for every student at any price point, regardless of ability or career goals. At subprime schools, Brandon estimates, only 10 percent of students are really interested in academics. The rest are there for mostly social purposes.

I’ve been thinking that the push for college has become like a much broader, and more legitimate, version of little league parents’ dreams of scholarships and professional sports careers for their children or the obsession that one can observe during the audition episodes of American Idol. What’s lost in the cultural messaging is that it is college, of itself, is a guarantor of nothing except, as Fergus Cullen puts it in the quotation above, lost savings, debt, and opportunity costs.
Of course, students can extract an excellent education even from “subprime” schools. As the quality of the institution declines, the self-direction required from the student increases. After all, a truly motivated young adult could learn a degree’s worth of knowledge simply with four years off and a library card. And if degrees are designed to be acquired, rather than earned, then they don’t really tell potential employers whether its holder took the downhill or uphill route.

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13 years ago

We always hear excuses made by academics that we can’t enforce our immigration laws, because it’s “cruel”, and they show their contempt for citizen workers, by snidely inferring that we have to outsource, and accept cheap foreign, illegal alien labor to be more competitive.. well, it strikes me that those same academics at public colleges and universities, as well as administrations, and the unions in the public sector, as well as various state mid to upper level management make far too much money. They are NOT competitive, and they increase our uncompetitiveness, by their excessive salaries and wages driving up our taxes. I think we need a push to gut their salaries, and eliminate tenure. What’s more, let’s expose them to the not so tender mercies of having to pay for their own health care, and eliminate other benefits. It’s time they learned the meaning of sacrifice.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
13 years ago

Howie Carr does regular columns in the Boston Herald, about how U. Mass Lowell is staffed. Largely with unemployed politicians (isn’t that true of the Havard School of Communist Government), the current president is Marty Meehan, formerly of congressional fame.
The U Mass Lowell students then write to Howie to complain. He then publish their letters. Their limited facility with the English language only serves to make his point.

13 years ago

I agree that getting a college degree that won’t lead to a job is pointless. However, postsecondary education is not limited only to 4-year liberal arts degrees. Most decent paying jobs with a future require some kind of additional training or education beyond high school. I think the issue is mostly about helping young people choose postsecondary education that will lead to a real career rather than just attending college for the sake of attending. By the same token, just a high school diploma won’t get you very far unless you attend a vocational high school that actually prepares you for a viable career after high school. Those schools are few and far between. (In RI, only Davies has a strong vocational program.)

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