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.
It’s been quite a week here at Roger Williams University. We have been more than a little curious regarding the impact that Affordable Excellence would have on the retention of our current students, and on the enrollment of new students who will be entering this coming fall. Given the number of private colleges in the Northeast, coupled with a continuing decline in the number of high school graduates in New England, competition for new students in our region has never been more fierce.
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (“Colleges Cut Prices by Providing More Financial Aid,” May 6, 2013) reports that the average discount rate (the amount of prospective tuition revenue that is returned to students as financial aid) rose to 45 percent for the 2012-13 academic year, the highest ever – and all indications are that the discount rate for the coming academic year will be even higher. When 45 percent of tuition dollars are used not for actual instruction, but simply to lure people through the front door, colleges are hard pressed to offer a quality educational experience. They try to stay ahead of their competitors by significantly raising the sticker prices for tuition each year, in order to generate new dollars that can be given as aid. Of course, their competitors do exactly the same thing. The consequence is that the published prices make college seem increasingly unaffordable.