Transparency in College Education

Myth of Fact? 

College education is an investment in a better financial future.  It is a necessity in a global economy.

In a recent Editorial [“Deal won’t fix student debt woes”], the writer succumbed to the current conjurer’s sleight-of-hand issue that college must be affordable, and higher interest rates on school loans makes it less so. 

Focusing on the current costs of college in an information vacuum, makes a mockery of the most important decision facing youth – how to prepare for their life’s career path. 

There are larger issues.  For example, our current weak economy has exposed college degrees that are marginally valuable – and expendable.  Why study four years and go into debt just to wait tables or tend bar?

In my opinion, the college education business does not serve their customers [students and employers] well.  However, it serves special interest groups [faculty, government agencies and foundations with grant money, and the most current social fad] exceedingly well.

Assuming that the family and student do their market research of careers and choose a useful major, what other information from a college is important to assure a career with long term economic traction?  For example, by asking career-specific questions they may learn:

·      Only 55% of the students graduate  in five years in that major;

·      Their average student debt is $28,000 whether they graduate or not;

·      Only 50% of their graduates actually receive job offers in their field; and

·      The average annual salary offer is $30,000

Could the parent in good conscience encourage their child to attend that college?

These are unsubstantiated, made up numbers of course, but that is okay, because they are not readily available to parents and students today.  In a data vacuum, the higher education decision is wishful thinking based on emotion.

If you firmly believe that college education is an investment, such information is absolutely essential for an intelligent decision of college major and where to attain it.  Without this information, how can you determine whether a college’s degree is valuable or fraudulent?

Full disclosure:  when I attended college in the 1950s, those numbers were not available either, but only 10% of high school graduates attended college, and few students borrowed to pay for it.

If you received numbers like those above before committing to attend a college, would you insist that your child still attend that school?  Would you insist that they find a major that pays better?  Would you search for a college where a higher percentage of graduates receive job offers, and have higher starting salaries?  If not, you would knowingly start your child on a lifetime of financial stress starting with maybe a quarter of a meager take home pay going for a large student loan.

Cavuto on Business has reported recently that High School students are caught between the guilt trip of going to college to compete in a global economy and the future poverty of a college loan.

Which is more important to the future well-being of our youth?  Attending the attractive college with the incredible sports programs and social life, but leads to dead-end careers and high debt, or a less glamorous school that prepares their graduates for a career that can adapt and compete as our economy evolves?

Our whole college selection process is like a magic show filled with deception and misdirection.  The result is our children are defrauded of productive futures and enslaved to the lender – which now is the federal government.  Parties that could do something to make college affordable put the blame on other participants in the process for the overly expensive, assembly-line nature of our universities.  One false issue, for example, that families worry about is qualifying for Pell Grants. But every increase by the federal government is closely followed by college tuition increases.

Next year’s high school graduates and their parents must demand that colleges answer questions important to a wise career choice.  For example, at each school, what is:  the current total annual cost; the percent who graduate in four years; the average debt of their graduates; the average percentage of graduates receiving job offers; and the average starting salary offer.

These questions are not asked today, so parents may fear jeopardizing their child’s acceptance by a college.  But, is that worse than attending college for five years, having debt two or three times their starting salary, and receiving a degree that becomes extinct in five to ten years?

Lee Jackson, Shalimar