In the first of three parts of this series, I discussed the general topic of what has been called a “jobless recovery,” following the Great Recession of 2008. In parts two and three, I examined at length the culprits that have been implicated as being the cause of our weak economic recovery: an outmoded and, to date, unresponsive system of higher education; and income and wealth inequality.
Analyzing the root causes of this unusually poor economic recovery is important not merely to ensure that blame is correctly assigned. The real importance lies in our efforts to remedy the problem: If we are focused on the wrong cause, not only will our solution fail to revive the economy, but also the potential for harm in repairing something that wasn’t broken could be enormous – and, in the long run, further negatively impact the nation.
In my last post, I considered the claim that more and better education is the answer to fixing our troubled economy. However, as I pointed out in the first post to this series (Sept. 8), there is a second explanation to the uneven nature of America’s economic recovery from the Great Recession: the game may be rigged to favor the very rich at the expense of everyone else. If this explanation has merit, then trying to repair the economy through more and better education will eventually prove to be not just futile but potentially very destructive to long-established institutions of higher learning.
Last week, I provided an overview on a topic of vital importance: the highly uneven nature of America’s economic recovery since the Great Recession of 2008. Corporate America and its shareholders are doing very well – but the great majority of wage earners are not. What accounts for this unevenness? Noted Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw is quoted as saying, “The best way to address rising inequality is to focus on increasing educational attainment,” (The New York Times, “Income Inequality and the Ills Behind It,” July 30, 2014). Is this statement true? Or does the real answer lie elsewhere?
We’ve spent five weeks looking at the question that continues to be the focus of reports and articles in the media – “Is college worth it?” – from the standpoint of four distinct concerns: its perceived lack of affordability; the burden of debt that faces so many graduates; the relative scarcity of well-paying jobs for recent college graduates; and the risk that a student will borrow money, not complete his or her course of study, and be economically worse off than if he or she had never started. (As an aside, I should note that the question of the worth of a college education has been so frequently asked that it is now being satirized. The Onion recently posted the following headline on its website: “Study Finds College Still More Worthwhile Than Spending 4 Years Chained to Radiator.”)
In previous blog posts on this topic, we have explored concerns relating to how expensive a college education has become; how many students are graduating with considerable debt; and how difficult it is for some graduates to find good jobs – all preparatory to a final discussion on the underlying question: Is college worth it? Before we take that question on, however, we must review a fourth concern:
Not enough college students are graduating, leaving them in debt and without a degree.
This is the most serious and significant of the four topics we have been discussing.
To begin, there are many studies regarding the economic impact on individuals with college degrees in comparison to those with just a high school education.
In Part 1 of this series of blog posts, I said that the question of the worthiness of investing in a college education was best addressed by looking at four discrete concerns: high cost, high debt, scarce jobs, and low graduation rates. In Part 2, we looked at the first concern, that too many families were finding that a college education had become too expensive. In Part 3, we analyzed the student debt “bubble.” This week, we’ll examine the concern that too many college graduates can’t find well-paying jobs.
There are too many unemployed or underemployed college graduates who are not earning enough to pay back their debts.
In Part 1, I argued that the proper way of determining whether college was worth the investment was first to examine four distinct concerns—high cost, high debt, scarce jobs, and low graduation rates. Last week, in part 2, we looked at the first of these concerns: has college simply become too expensive for many families? This week, we’ll examine the second concern:
There is a student debt “bubble” that is preventing young college graduates from buying homes, starting families, and thereby acting as a drain on the entire economy.
During the presidential election campaign of 1992, and on the heels of a short, sharp national recession, James Carville, a political advisor to the Clinton campaign, famously characterized what the election was all about by coining the phrase that I’m using as the title of this blog post.
Now here we are, 22 years later, and in every political campaign since the Great Recession of 2008, this same phrase—although now tellingly focused specifically on jobs—is the basis of the platform of almost every candidate for office.
The problem is that the focus on jobs—understandable, given that in almost six years the economy has not fully restored the jobs lost in 2008 and 2009—goes well beyond mere political sloganeering. It permeates every conceivable facet of society:
Two weeks ago, I presented a list of 10 expectations, predictions and suggestions relating to higher education that have received extensive media coverage in recent months. A week ago, in Part 2 of this topic, I selected three related topics from that list, and offered an opinion about what higher education can do to address them, and what is beyond our capabilities.
This week, I’d like to select another three items from my original list of 10 for more detailed analysis and comment. These include items number 3, 4 and 6. They are, respectively:
Higher education is hidebound;
Higher education is going broke; and
Large numbers of colleges will go out of business – unless…
Well, is higher education hidebound? Are we hopelessly mired in the past, unwilling to examine, let alone adopt, new ways of thinking about teaching and learning?
Last week I complained about unreasonable expectations being placed on colleges and universities. I rather quickly assembled a list of 10 such issues (there are actually a few more), and I indicated that in Part 2 of this topic, I would offer an opinion about what higher education can (and should) do – and what is simply beyond our capacity to correct.
I’d like to start with three related issues that represent numbers 1, 2 and 7 in my list from last week:
More low-income students need to be admitted at top private schools;
The pipeline to college must be widened; and
It’s all about college completion rates.
On January 16, President Obama convened more than 100 higher education officials (most of whom were either the presidents of elite colleges or heads of community colleges or public university systems) to seek commitments on four areas of concern: