Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Hollowing Out of Higher Education

This piece in the Washington Post describes the decline of state dollars flowing to so-called "public ivies."  This connects to an issue that was brought up on last Sunday's Meet the Press.  Put simply, states aren't investing in higher education anymore.

From my own experience I saw tuition climb 24% from the freshmen year of college to my senior year at a state school in Illinois.  I also saw the graphs that charted how in the early 1980s for every $1 dollar of tuition paid by a student, the state of Illinois paid $9.  Now that ratio is close to or less than 1 to 1.

What this leads to is fewer kids going to college or those that do go amassing large amounts of debt that necessitates a high-paying job to service that burden, which are becoming harder to come by as well.  This was a major element of the Occupy Wall Street protests.  Now I know not everyone needs to go to college and I do think we need to direct more kids toward technical/vocational colleges then to English 101 then we currently do, but it's not like this money is being shifted.  It's just going away.  Surely it's in the national interest to have centers of learning to equip students with the knowledge and the critical thinking skills needed to drive innovation.  And yet, this is a topic that pops up and fizzles out.

When I think about this issue and those that would suggest I think everyone should get a college degree for free, (not a half bad idea) I am always reminded of this clip from The West Wing.  It's supposed to be hard, but surely the government has an interest in making it easier.  Surely those that want an education should be able to do so without racking up massive amounts of debt.

1 comment:

Colin said...

Put simply, states aren't investing in higher education anymore.

This statement is, at best, overwrought. States are still spending many billions on higher education and just this month Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced a push to increase higher education spending in that state by $100 million.

What this leads to is fewer kids going to college...

Where is the evidence to support this claim? According to the Department of Education, between 1999 and 2009 college enrollment increased 38 percent, from 14.8 million to 20.4 million.

Fewer kids going to college, however, would be great. Currently only 56% of those who enroll in a four-year college earn a bachelor’s degree. This suggests that we have too many kids going to college who either aren't motivated enough or are academically unprepared to do the work. How even more kids going to college is in either their self-interest or that of the country as a whole is less than clear.

A college degree for free, meanwhile, isn't a half-bad idea -- it's a completely bad idea. First off, let's be clear: there is no such thing as college for free. Rather either the student (or the student's family) bears the cost or the cost is socialized. Why a student's friends and neighbors should bear the cost of the student's tuition, instead of the student and the student's family, is not completely obvious. As someone who attended a state-subsidized university, I have yet to understand what my neighbors got out of partially paying for my enrollment in classes such as tennis, Greek and Roman literature in translation or music appreciation. Why they should have been forced to foot the entire bill, under a scheme where the government covers all tuition costs, is even less clear.

Further, it also seems as this NYT article and these rankings suggest, that with free tuition you get what you pay for.

Rather than further subsidizing the existing college system and fueling the higher education bubble, our efforts would be much better spent trying to reduce costs and achieving new efficiencies.

I am also reminded of my job hunt after graduating from college and noting how even many administrative assistant positions required a 4 year degree. My guess is that the positions ask for it both because a high school diploma is so devalued and there are so many college degree holders.

But in no sensible world should one need tens of thousands of dollars in education to answer phones and schedule appointments. It's a massive tax on entering the work force, both in terms of outlays and income foregone from entering the workforce at age 22 instead of 18. Seems to me we don't suffer from too little college, but too much.