In my last post, I considered at some length the pros and cons of tuition-free public higher education, as advocated by some candidates now campaigning to be the next president of our country. After all, the reasoning goes, free tuition has been a long-standing policy in the K-12 sector; why not higher education? Different candidates vary with respect to how generous they are prepared to be, with one advocating a means test and at least a token investment by the students and their families, whereas another wants simply to do away with tuition at public colleges for everyone.
Unfortunately, the candidates are not discussing what particular problem their policy is intended to solve. Surely, in order to be effective, solutions have to derive from a collective agreement on, and understanding of, what problem the solution is intended to remedy – and our presidential candidates appear to have skipped this step.
The presidential election is almost a year away, so we still have time to think more about the problem we want to address before we fall in love with a particular solution.
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.
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: