Is college worth the money?

A commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education raises the possibility that college may be the next bubble to burst:

Consumers who have questioned whether it is worth spending $1,000 a square foot for a home are now asking whether it is worth spending $1,000 a week to send their kids to college. There is a growing sense among the public that higher education might be overpriced and under-delivering.

In such a climate, it is not surprising that applications to some community colleges and other public institutions have risen by as much as 40 percent. Those institutions, particularly community colleges, will become a more-attractive option for a larger swath of the collegebound. Taking the first two years of college while living at home has been an attractive option since the 1920s, but it is now poised to grow significantly.

College enrollment, it says, crested this year and will be declining over the next few years. Some colleges are competing for fewer students by freezing tuitions.

(h/t: Andrew Sullivan)

  • Bob

    College is worth the money when it it’s affordable; i.e., when parents and students don’t have to mortgage the next twenty years of their lives to pay for it.

  • J

    I strongly encourage people to go to a community college for the first two years. It more affordable, you have access to great professors, and can get a quality education rather than something taught by assistants. I went to community college or my first two years, and it was the best decision I’ve made.

  • justin h

    As tough as it will be for colleges, it really does need to happen. I went to a private college and paid handsomely for it when I graduated 5 years ago. I can afford the loan payments now, but it hurts. I couldn’t imagine having to do it today, where the same education would cost me 30-40% more. The rate at which tuition has gone up, even in the context of medical insurance, is outrageous.

  • kennedy

    As larger colleges lose tuition $ to community colleges, expect them to react by putting more restrictions on the transfer of credits.

    It would be interesting to see a comparison showing the cost of a degree vs. the average salary of someone with the degree. I suspect fields such as accounting and engineering would pay off more quickly than a liberal arts, teaching or (sadly for some) a journalism degree.

  • bsimon

    “Is college worth the money?”

    It depends. $30 grand a year for a history degree is probably not a smart economic move, if you’re looking to leave college and find a high-paying job in order to pay off the loan. On the other hand $30 grand a year for an engineering degree might be more fiscally prudent.

  • K

    I’m an adviser at the U. I think we need to help our high school students be more thoughtful about what they want out of their education and even encourage some of them to take a gap year like they do in Europe. The need some time to think about their values and see what it’s like to have a full time non-seasonal job or to meet people different than themselves.

    In my experience, students and their parents are not really clear about what they are paying for. College is not necessarily vocational training and that needs to be hammered home. Our career center tells us that about 60% of students earning a BA go into some aspect of “business” after school. Yes, that includes students who major in Spanish, American Indian Studies, and Economics. Majors are not equivalent to careers in every case.

    Asking people to be more critical of this choice probably means that we will lose some students, yes. But, hopefully people will have a clearer sense of the kind of value college offers when it’s no longer the only socially acceptable choice for “smart” people.

  • Bonnie

    To me this question is not all that far off from “Are Kids worth the money???” why have kids when you know they cost an arm and a leg, and will prevent you from having a cushy retirement etc. Why own pets, they are expensive to maintain. I don’t question that the costs have skyrocketed, but not all educational opportunities and the related expenses should be evaluated based on an economic “payoff”.

    These are important life enhancing experiences…or should be. A liberal arts college is not a vocational school.

    Yes, I’m rationalizing the small fortune I am still paying off to send a child to private liberal arts, but I think said child has benefitted immensely.

  • Bob Collins

    That’s another old debate renewed, then. Is college about enrichment (in the cultural way) , or about getting a better job?

  • kennedy

    Most degrees require attending some courses not directly related to the degree. If college is about enrichment, attend only the courses that are enriching and don’t worry about the diploma.

    Now that I’ve stated it, it’s clear that at least part of the value in college experience is that a degree will have some value and open some doors.

  • GregS

    One could fill a coal train with irony in taking out $120K in loans for four years of “enrichment”.

    So should enrichment courses come at the same cost as career courses?


  • Paul

    Somewhere in the past “News Cut” archives there is an entry where I described the tuition bubble. So of course I’m here to say I told you so.

    Like the realestate bubble, the tuition bubble was inflated by cheap and easy credit in the form of student loans. In the early 90’s Al Gore re-invented government via privatization, and one of the agencies let out for private sector magic was the Student Loan Corporation. Once the banks got in on the deal students and parents were deluged by cheap and easy credit in form of outright student loans as well as home equity. By the mid 90s colleges and universities public and private, all over the country were raising tuition’s by double digits. Why”? Because they could. It not like standing in front of a bunch of people talking about stuff got more expensive. Nor did professors and instructors see double digit pay increases. Oh, and then there’s sports, many universities continued to falsely claim that their sports programs were self financed, but that turned to be untrue. That lie was finally revealed at the U of M in the late 90s. Around the turn of the century states started cutting aid to universities because republican magic plan economics was already producing budget deficits, but tuition increases outpaced those cuts.

    Maybe if bubble bursts tuition will become affordable again. The problem is the approach thus far to out of control tuition’s has been the same as the approach to the banking/realestate crises- re-inflate the bubble. They’re thinking of expanding the tuition aid cuts and guaranteed student loans, but we probably can’t afford that so the real solution is for tuition’s to come down.

    Hope against hope that the next bubble to burst will the sports bubble. That would actually free up billions of dollars for other stuff.

  • Jesse

    I always liked this quote by Derek Bok:

    If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

  • Keith

    I think college is a waste of time and money. I been to school and you know what I have to show for it, nothing but my memories of great times and no worries. The problem here is that when you get out of school with a B/S Bull sh*t degree that you will end up starting at the bottom lower then someone that chose to hit the workforce right after high school. Its rather you start with a company or organization and stay with the same company for years or go to school and have your boss be ignorant and only know the one company he has been with. There is nothing wrong with that but unfortunately it is like we are being penalized for choosing to get an education. Plus you have to think about that the longer you are with a company the more you will grow. So no matter what the same pay spans out over a course of a lifetime regarless if you have been to college or not. I have friends that dropped out of high school and make more money then I do. Is that fair or is it luck? Basically, colloges and universities are a business. They are out to make profit and leave you with a huge bill and fake promises. It may help to have a degree but maybe when you are 45 and by then your life is almost more then half way over. I would rather make 12.00/hr with no education then make 15.00/hr with an education because of the repayments for the next 15-20 years. Its a waste of money uness you can have it paid for 100 percent. And there is no guareentees of any job whatsoever. The people that are high up in a company or organization are much older people and have an education from the 60s and 70s and are not with it fully and you have to teach those people how to do almost everything in todays market. It seems as if for all the people that chose to go to college now are being screwed in one way or another. I have had to put up with working with junkies and people that just don’t care only to get meesly pay. Does it make sense? My only advice through my own subjectiveness is to start off in the company right out of high school and work your way up by doing a good job. You will actually then be able to focus on a family and implementing the important things in life. You won’t have to worry about struggling until your 40 and then who really wants to see an old dude driving in a new car. Doesn’t look good at all. For all the recent grads that can’t find a career, I understand and completely sympathize with you. A poor investment unless in the medical field.