Is college really worth it?

For over forty years, I have been an educator. It may sound odd, but I think that the United States should give serious consideration to greatly reducing the number of students who go to college. This is not a new idea; many people have made the argument that a large percentage of college students learn very little during the four years of undergraduate studies. What has changed is the degree to which students and their families go into debt.

In just a few years, tuition and associated expenses at private colleges and universities have skyrocketed, from $30,000 to over $60,000. It’s quite conceivable for a student to “pay” half of his or her tuition through loans. That would mean that on graduation, a student would be carrying a cumulative debt of $120,000 or more to a college or university.

The job market for college graduates is tighter than it has been in over eighty years since the Great Depression. If a college graduate gets a job, he or she draws a salary of forty or fifty thousand dollars. For many, rent has become a prohibitive cost, and they move back with their parents. The payroll tax currently is a 5.65% government revenue enhancer that is deducted from salary and many also pay federal and state income taxes. Basic survival, expenses for food,  clothing, and inexpensive leisure activities eat up most, if not all, of the discretionary spending money. Often, there is no money left to pay the nearly $1,200.00 monthly debt (10 years at 5%) to the college or university that they attended.

It strikes me that there are two ways  to reduce the cost of the college loans that burden students. The first is to lower the cost of college. Universities are presently involved in the equivalent of an “arms race.” Who can have the fanciest dorm rooms? Who can have the most parking places so that the maximum number of students can park on campus? Who has the most high- tech equipment in classrooms?

While virtually anything and everything high tech that is related to science and math makes sense, do English classes need smart boards? They may enhance the learning experience, or they may be superfluous to it. Plenty of people learned how to analyze literature well before there were smart boards. They got by with smart professors.

The second and perhaps more effective way to reduce the cost of college loans is for employers to disregard to a larger extent whether or not students have college degrees or even college studies. If employers use as their main criteria for hiring whether or not someone has the knowledge and skills to do a job, then it really doesn’t matter how they got it. They may have done a lot of reading and writing on their own. They may have learned a great deal of physics through “garage experiments.” They may have learned a great deal of sociology from being a summer camp counselor. And they certainly learned a great deal about being a teacher from the more than 10,000 hours that they spent in classrooms as students prior to high school graduation.

If an individual can get a good job at an age such as eighteen because he or she has the skills to do the job, then why not hire him or her and stop the charade of college for many. Do they really need to be part of an experience where professional athletics are disguised as being amateurs?  Do they really need to be a part of a school that claims that it is the best “party school” in the country?

If that would happen, business might have new workers who are better prepared to fill needed jobs. The morale of these workers will be better because they won’t be saddled with student loans. Colleges and universities will have to compete to attract students by reducing their cots and the consequent student loan repayments. Just a thought.

Arthur Lieber Arthur Lieber (308 Posts)

Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.


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    It certainly “can be” worth the cost. You can start off at a local school, work while you are at school, and work toward a degree that provides the best opportunity for high paying jobs. If you choose to major in art at an expensive private school the results may be worth it in personal satisfaction, but it may never pay off in dollars. But if you go to school in a state school, make good grades, work hard at it and end up with a degree that those who hire tend to find desirable then you stand a much better chance in the long run of earning a good wage.