President Obama sent a shot across the bow of higher education in his 2012 State of the Union Address when he said, "Let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down." Was this a well-researched policy statement intended to increase the competitiveness of our nation, or an appeal to young voters and their parents during an election cycle?
Whatever the reason, it has started an active and heated dialog about the costs of higher education. Let me put my bias on the table: I believe deeply in the economic and human value of high-quality education at all levels. So, of course, this thinly-veiled threat of government intervention (price controls?) caught my attention. Yes, it was bound to happen sooner or later: just a few years ago, the escalating cost of healthcare was the public scapegoat. Higher education was due its turn at the political whipping post.
There is no sidestepping the fact that the cost of a college degree is a major financial stressor for most American families. Next to your home, a college education for your child is one of the most expensive "investments" you will likely ever make. So is it worth it?
Critics have actually begun to question the financial value of a college degree. The cost has indeed increased significantly over the years. But rather than just examining the cost, a better question would be to evaluate the return on the investment that this advanced education provides. Here the economics get a little murky, but under reasonable assumptions, a university degree still pays off handsomely. Some rough math provides insight: the "all in" sticker price for a four-year degree varies widely, from $75K at, say, Florida State to more than $200K at Harvard.
Typically, the costs to families are much less when aid and merit support are factored in. So what does this investment get you? Individuals with a Bachelor's degree can expect to earn $2.27M over their lifetimes, while those with only a high school diploma will earn $1.3M, according to US News.
I have a certain amount of heart burn with the the idea that a 'college' degree is an essential. And I will start off with a good hard and skeptical look at the assertion that a college degree is worth (roughly) $1.3 million. The problems with that assertion:
#1: It is based on historical data - who says that this will be true in the future
#2: It is based on a relatively few college grads pursuing a relatively large number of high(er) paying jobs. More college grads + fewer (or even the same number of ) jobs = not so much happiness. Certainly the trend seems to be heading in that direction with many college grads unable to find employment at a level that justifies the costs of their degree.
#3: The higher cost of college is just the cost of tuition et al but also the financing cost of the increasing large debt that must be absorbed by the student and their families.
Now I do feel that some higher education is highly valuable - I do, however, feel that there are many, less expensive ways to get that additional education such as community colleges and employer sponsored course.
More education (in fact, a lifetime of it) - yes. But not blindly rushing off to college for a degree in whatever.
It will be interesting to see how colleges respond to the "pushback" on costs. Many are starting to offer accelerated programs where students can reduce costs by finishing earlier. Online courses, especially for core courses that might not be part of the student's main academic pursuit, is another obvious area to potentially save on costs. But in the end, it will be interesting to see the quality these new programs offer, and also how many studentsand families adopt cost control strategies.
I found it odd that kids didn't jump at online classes. They're proficient with technology and accustomed to communicating with devices. Seems a no-brainer. I would think they would jump at it and drag their gray-haired professors along.
Rob, I think benmlee2 is right: When companies see that online graduates are productive, things will change in a hurry. That said, I haven't found many people, even in the age groups of my early-20s kids, who are ready to make the jump yet.
People will have to adjust to new concept of learning. Young people already learn a lot online like how to hop up a complex gaming computer. There are definite advantage to learning on line. Concepts can be animated. You can rewind to catch a sentence, take notes or think about the concept for a moment. Forums can be used to throw ideas around and help each other. But for sure some form of study group, social life, and campus environment where students get together will be needed.
People may actually learn better online. The real test is once they graduate, how effective they are in the industry. I believe a well designed online college course can turn out just as good engineers as the best engineering schools today for a lot less money in the long run.
When industry start to hire online college graduate, and see how effective they are, there will be a rush to online college.
When I've taught university classes over the last few years. I regularly asked students if they would prefer an online class over an prof in-person class. The result was regularly 80 percent for in-person classes and 20 percent or less for online classes. When I asked why, the response were consistent. The students don't feel they learn as much in an online class. They want the contact with the knowledge holder. Given that the students were usually in their late teens and early 20s, I expected they would lean toward the technology of online classes. But nope.
The first ground rule is every citizen in a democracy needs college education. And if I were the president, you can't graduate even from high school until you are shown two political statements one from left and one right, and can write two essays to show how they are both false. Democracy can't operate otherwise. You won't believe the level of thinking with stuff written in a public forum. An engineering forum like this is refreshing to see actual critical thought process.Guess as an engineer, you are trained in critical thinking, and that is the value of college education.
The high cost of college is simple supply and demand. College has become a must and not optional if you want a fighting chance at middle class. The number of new college has not increased. Cost is going up simply because it can. As somebody said, the value has not gone up. Is still a good investment because there are no alternative. What else can you do. Is like medicine. If is a million a pill that cost pennies to make, is still a good investment because there are no alternatives.
What is needed is competition. No, not corporate take over that turns college into Disney channel or the Vogue magazine. Is time for a national college. There is no reason why one professor can't teach a million in hundreds of classroom across the nation with technology available. You can pick the best professor base on results and pay him a million a year. Is easy to see which professor's students gets the most A's. Text books should be digital and free. Just pay the publisher one time for the rights. Exercise problems can change, but the basic text should stay the same. All you need is just a classroom with an attendant. You can still have all the campus clubs and social activities.
A cheap university can be every bit as effective as an expensive one. It only lacks the name and the football team. I believe this is not just a dream, is starting to happen with MIT free course, Stanford course on line and Khan University.
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