Skip to comments.Congrats, College Grad! Was It Worth It?
Posted on 05/18/2013 10:08:10 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
As families celebrate graduation around the country, former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett asks if this is really cause to celebrate. He and coauthor David Wilezol discuss their book Is College Worth It?: A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education with National Review Onlines Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Students pay $100,000 or more for what they could get for almost nothing. With new technology and online breakthroughs, you could get a better education in a coffee shop or your parents basement than you will get at most colleges. What does it say about the state of higher education and of technology that a former secretary of education would recommend parents basements over college?
WILLIAM J. BENNETT: I think it speaks to how the higher-ed system has become concerned with preserving its own interests over students. Higher ed is very inefficient in terms of costs, but even worse, its not equipping students to be thinkers and moral beings or workers. The online education company Udacity has just announced that it will partner with Georgia Tech to offer a masters degree program entirely online for only $7,000. (Full disclosure: I am an adviser to Udacity.) What if those kinds of bargains start coming to undergraduates en masse? Technology has the ability to deliver more of the product for cheaper, and that will put pressure on schools to rethink how things are done.
LOPEZ: How do you figure that two-thirds of people who go to four-year colleges right out of high school should do something else?
WILEZOL: Well in the first place, almost 50 percent of students who start at four-year colleges dont graduate within six years. After that point, your chances of graduating plummet. So there are plenty of people enrolling in college who are spending their money or taking out loans who will never get a degree. Secondly, there are lots of people in college who dont know why they are there or who are there for the wrong reasons. It would be more beneficial for some students to start at community college or take a year off from school and work rather than jump right into school. Theres also another great educational institution out there that will definitely build character: the U.S. military. BENNETT: We arent saying in the book that nobody should go to college. For a lot of kids, college is a great choice. We just want to emphasize that this is a decision that requires a lot of careful consideration about whether you are prepared to meet the academic requirements of college, and which schools and majors will provide a good return on your investment, financial or otherwise. Not everybody is Harvard or Stanford material places it is worthwhile to go to even if you have to borrow some. But there are plenty of great, unheralded schools out there like Grove City College, St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania, the Colorado School of Mines, or Northern Virginia Community College, that can help get you where you want to be.
LOPEZ: Too much of higher education is wildly expensive. Can we fix that?
WILEZOL: I think things are already changing. For years, colleges had a ready supply of students and parents willing to pay whatever it took, even if it meant taking out lots of loans, to get a degree. And so schools kept raising prices knowing that when people see higher prices, they think there is more value in the product. People today are less willing to pay what they were in the past. That puts pressure on colleges to fix a lot of the wild inefficiencies in the system. For instance, at the University of Texas at Austin 20 percent of the faculty teach 57 percent of the courses. And we know how much money colleges are sinking into hotel-quality amenities and entertainment for students apartment-style dorms, hot tubs, etc.
LOPEZ: Is there something immoral about the student-loan situation?
WILEZOL: There absolutely is. Colleges are a business like any other. They dont want to leave money sitting on the table. So in many cases, when they have a prospective student who is going to indebt himself to go there, they are more comfortable saying thats the price of excellence, or something like that, than they are being honest and saying this is way too expensive for you. And the federal government and private banks are complicit too, to a lesser degree, by not putting appropriate lending standards in place for people who are in many cases too young to really grasp what they are doing to themselves financially. The money has been too easy to get, and that also drives up prices.
LOPEZ: Too many students are going to college and doing little other than indulging their own pastimes, partying, and hooking up. How can we change this?
WILEZOL: I think there are some things that can be done on campus. John Garvey, the president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., has done a very bold thing in instituting same-sex dorms. We know that the hook-up culture is partly a product of men and women living so close together. Colleges have almost totally given up on the role of acting in loco parentis. But the hook-up culture is also fueled by a larger campus culture of sexual freedom that many college administrators see as a good thing, maybe even essential, for self-discovery. In their view, almost anything sexual is okay provided that there is a principle of consent involved.
LOPEZ: What is the zombie generation, and what do you worry is going to happen with these kids?
BENNETT: The zombie generation are those graduates, or young people in general, that Paul Ryan referred to in the presidential campaign the ones who are having a hard time getting ahead in the work force and maybe have moved back in with their parents. The ones who are disappointed with the Obama economy. And we know that the longer it takes you to get going, the more depressed your earnings and advancement will be over your lifetime. This is one reason why its important for students who are considering college to know what majors and what schools have a better chance of paying off. I worry that these zombie generation kids will become disillusioned with this country and drift toward an Occupy Wall St. mentality of economics.
LOPEZ: When did college become a default for many graduating high school students and their parents?
BENNETT: I dont know exactly when this happened but the prevailing mindset for many parents is that their kid needs a B.A. to be financially or personally successful in life. But were seeing more and more evidence that that is not true. Graduates of the Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Virginia are now earning more, on average, after graduating than their counterparts from the University of Virginia, in large part because they are getting skills the country needs, even if their on-paper credential is less than a B.A.
LOPEZ: Do you worry that the net effect of your asking if college is worth it will be to discourage inner-city, low-income kids who might benefit most from college?
BENNETT: I worry more about kids who are from low-income backgrounds getting accepted to college and then getting discouraged by the high cost to the point that they dont go. Or they might get accepted and decide to go, but then take on a ton of loans and drop out. It makes for a bleak future. One sad and ironic fact that we discovered in the course of writing the book was that in 1970, 12 percent of recent college graduates came from the bottom quartile of the income distribution. Today, the percentage is 7.3 percent. Even as weve tried to give out all this aid, skyrocketing costs have produced the opposite effect of what was intended, and the number of low-income people graduating college is decreasing.
LOPEZ: What was the Bennett hypothesis and how has it been proven right?
BENNETT: When I was secretary of education I noticed that even when we increased federal financial aid the price of tuition at many colleges kept going up. So thats the Bennett hypothesis. The implication is that more federal aid doesnt lower prices. It pushes them higher. And a new generation of scholars has studied this and found that I was right in many respects. But the real proof is in the pudding prices have risen over 1,100 percent since 1978, so all this financial aid isnt bringing costs down, which is the key.
LOPEZ: Did it hurt you to have to write that philosophy and religious-studies degrees are not all that financially viable? We study these things for higher reasons, dont we?
BENNETT: I have a Ph.D. in philosophy and that seemed to work out okay for me. David is currently pursuing a masters in classics. So we personally love the liberal arts and see their intellectual value. But we want people who are thinking about studying those disciplines to be aware that theres a lesser financial premium on these things than other things like engineering or the hard sciences. WILEZOL: You might be enthralled with Shakespeare now, but in ten to fifteen years, when you want to buy a house, get married, or have kids, you might wish you had studied something else. But putting all that aside, I think that there is a place for liberal arts in higher education, and because the content can be so compelling there will always be people who want to explore that. Double major in classics and computer science and youll be fine!
LOPEZ: Did the Gosnell trial disturb you? Where are we 40 years into Roe? This is not entirely unrelated to some of the issues raised in the book and is at the heart of the work Elayne Bennett does.
BENNETT: This Gosnell business is horrific. You can apply the same logic of the Bennett hypothesis to Roe: legalizing abortion hasnt diminished the gruesomeness of it. Problems like high rates of abortion and out-of-wedlock births, domestic violence, and absentee fathers, are all partly a product of the academic classs views on sexual conduct, the natural interactions of men and women, and the welfare state. Many of these academics become in charge of public policy and community activism and so on, so they do often shape society in a very tangible way. Beyond that, its not hard to see the universitys moral ethos manifested in many urban problems. And thank you for mentioning my wife, Elayne, who has given a great portion of her life to helping kids in the neighborhoods of D.C. realize their potential as students and as people.
LOPEZ: Ive always gotten the impression from your radio show that truck drivers might be among the wisest people in America.
WILEZOL: Bill always asks them to blow their trucker horn.
BENNETT: We have the best audience in radio. Truckers have a lot of time to digest a lot of information and process complex arguments. And theyve seen a lot of America and a lot of people in America. So they understand this country. On talk radio in general, airtime has to be given to those who make the most thoughtful and well-articulated points, because theres no visual component. Because of that it has been said by David Gelernter and others that talk radio is the most intelligent medium there is and I agree. Well, except for NRO.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
>>The online education company Udacity has just announced that it will partner with Georgia Tech to offer a masters degree program entirely online for only $7,000.
Masters degrees are for people who already have a degree. Why doesn’t anyone ever do this for an Associates or Bachelors? People who spend their day in factories, under the hood of cars, or sitting at a receptionist desk need to get affordable, online degrees more than those who already have an education.
If you took out big college loans, then your degree needs to be in computer science or engineering. Otherwise, it probably wasn’t worth it - first for you, later for the rest of us when the taxpayers inevitably get stuck with the college loan mess.
To some extent, the Wiz had it right. What students receive from college is a diploma documenting that knowledge and to some extent claiming to assess the quality of the education. I preferred college grads back when I hired. The applied math or statistics diploma was prima facie proof of systematic, high-quality knowledge. That saved me a whole lot of time checking for broad and deep knowledge, not to mention the character to finish what they started.
Otherwise I would have wasted a lot of time in the empty heads of those who in many cases couldn't finish a real degree program, finding in return relatively few who could handle statistics on demand. When I had a non-college technician demonstrate ability, I allowed them to move up, but that was relatively rare.
What really grinds my butt is now Obama has suggested forgiving many of the student loans now in default.
Now that they’ve learned all they need to know about communist utopias, it’s time to face REALITY. School’s out Skippy. Welcome to the REAL world!
My neighbor’s daughter just graduated in the top 1% of her HS class - got accepted to EVERY college to which she applied. Wants to go into science. She selected Bryn Mawr [BM] of all colleges [no doubt, pushed by her mother].
Not only is BM NOT in the top 100 colleges in science, it costs $53K+/year, and is 911th [out of 3000] in ROI [Return On Investment].
BTW: The daughter WAS accepted at Cornell - which is top 10 in science.
Oh well, in 4 years, at least her mother can brag that her daughter went to a hoity toity school - as her daughter [living at home] leaves for work as a barista at Starbucks.
And my neighbor, the husband, just rolls over like a poodle ...
So it grinds your butt that your generation:
a) got cheap education
b) jacked it up for future generations
Seems to me if you think that future generations should get the same deal you did - then tuition costs need to come down drastically.
Full disclosure - I have a degree, but it’s all paid off.