Fail U: The false promise of higher education (Sykes)

Bernie Sanders made student debt an issue in his presidential campaign and it resulted in him being a significant contender to Hillary Clinton. But, Sanders’ response to student debt was to pass the cost on to taxpayers - a wrong move for many reasons. The correct response is to look at colleges and universities and ask why are they charging so much tuition?

Sykes reports that “the cost of a college degree has increased by 1,125 percent since 1978 – four times the rate of inflation.” [Emphasis added]. There are additional mind-boggling statistics; “between 1975 and 2005, full-time faculty increased 51 percent; bureaucrats increased by 85 percent and ‘other professionals’ increased by 240 percent.” Construction of dormitories and other buildings has exponentially expanded. All of this resulted in increased costs for higher education and in student debt climbing to an astounding $1.3 trillion.

Nearly two thirds of all college students must borrow to attend college, and the average student graduates with more than $30,000 in debt. Student debt would be manageable if these students were able to obtain good jobs once they graduated. But, that is often not the case. Many graduates are unable to obtain a job following graduation because either they studied an obscure subject matter or because the economy has not been creating the jobs for which they prepared. As Sykes states, “average wages for graduates aged 25 - 34 fell by 15 percent; in 2011, 53 percent of college graduates under 25 were unemployed or underemployed.”

In a technologically sophisticated world, it might make sense that more students are attending college than did in the past. But, here too there are problems. Statistics reveal that the current generation of students, i.e. millennials are not performing as well academically as previous generations. “Of the 1.8 million assessed for college readiness in 2014, [American College Testing] found only 26 percent met college-ready benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science.” “[Educational Testing Service] released a large study in 2015 concluding [that] U.S. millennials aged 16 - 34 with a four-year B.A. scored below their counterparts in 19 of 21 participating countries regarding reading, math and problem-solving in a technology-rich environment.' (Japan and Finland scored the best.) Those with masters or doctoral degrees only scored higher than peers in Ireland, Poland, and Spain.” Meanwhile, another study found that millennials are receiving higher letter grades than previous generations; “A 2012 study reports that 43 percent of all letter grades are now A's, up 28 percent since 1960.”

The problem of student debt is not merely that students are encumbered by excessive debt, but that colleges and universities are bloated with personnel expenses and with constructions costs and these costs are passed on to the students and their parents. Moreover, these students are ill-prepared for a position in the workplace. Our institutions of higher learning deserve an F.

Suzie Dickson
March 3, 2017
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