Why does college cost so much? Will I be able to get a job when I graduate?
These two questions are on the lips of most college students as they begin a new school year.
As football season swings into high gear, it is depressing to note that over half of last year’s college graduates are underemployed or unemployed. With a poor economy, half of the graduates have been forced to move back in with their parents. Talk about a letdown! Going from big man (or woman) on campus to an unemployed basement dweller is a depressing reality for many. But don’t forget another kick in the pants — these recent graduates are saddled with millions of dollars in student debt that will hang around their necks for years.
The prospects for current students are not any better. How has education gotten so expensive and where are the jobs? The first dirty little secret in higher education is out-of-control tuition and other costs and fees to attend college. For the world outside of academia, overall consumer prices have increased 115% since 1985. However, college tuition costs have soared 500% during the same time period. Yes, that’s 500% inflation!
The primary reason for the wide variance between real inflation and “Ivory Tower” inflation is a dramatic change that took place over a decade ago involving Federal Stafford loans. In 1992, Uncle Sam decided to decouple government-backed student loans from parental income restrictions. Colleges welcomed this news with open arms because it led to a borrowing frenzy and an injection of billions of dollars via student loans.
The result of all the cash was hyperinflation in the cost of college. At institutions across the land, freshmen arrived year after year, only to be met with higher and higher expenses, well beyond the consumer price index. The more the government was willing to lend, the higher the tuition costs climbed.
Now, we have reached a breaking point. Students with bleak job prospects are beginning to question whether a degree is worth the time, expense, and debt. Many economists are beginning to agree with them. Unless your degree is in science, education, or a health-related field, don’t expect a job anytime soon (or maybe “never”) that you couldn’t otherwise get without your degree. Students with majors in the arts and humanities can expect to flounder for many years, to be forced to live with their parents, and to take lower wage jobs as waiters, bartenders, retail clerks, and receptionists.
Where was the degree counseling for all of those left behind in the changing marketplace amid a technological revolution that has had a dramatic impact on marketable careers? For the millions of students burdened with crushing debt, the prospect is bleak of ever paying it back with a low-income job
It is past time for education bureaucrats to wake up and smell the coffee. Parents and students alike want more for less. Distance learning, technological innovation, and a generation familiar with computers and the Internet should allow for significant cost savings and “force multipliers” stretching dollars in ways never imagined before this age of technology.
Resilient and responsible career counseling should help students train for jobs where they can actually find work. It is a brave new world and it is time for the Ivory Tower to come tumbling down and be replaced by a well-designed, efficient structure focused on effectively providing trained individuals for a job in today’s competitive marketplace.
Thom Goolsby is a state senator, trial attorney and law professor. He serves on the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education.