All About College
10 December 2013
I was recently asked by my youth group to provide resources for high school students considering college. Here's what I came up with...
People usually go to college for a combination of a few reasons:
- It's expected of you (by your parents, family, friends, etc)
- You've heard it's the only/guaranteed way to get a good job and career.
- It's how you "become an adult"
- You love to learn
- You don't know what you want to do, and colleges help you find out.
Colleges are Valuable
Colleges and universities have incredible value.
- You can choose between dozens, even hundreds, of topics and specialties.
- They are institutions intended to advance knowledge.
- They are a place for young adults to gain valuable life skills...sometimes.
- They concentrate smart, interested, and dedicated people together. This is both inspiring and (sometimes) incredibly productive.
Learning, research, exploration. That sounds awesome. It is.
Unfortunately, college comes with painful trade-offs.
Colleges are Expensive
College is expensive. Really expensive.
There's no one reason for this. There are several:
- Federal and state funding for colleges has gone down over the past decade, so tuition went up to make up the shortfall.
- Colleges are in a race to be 'prestigious', so they built fancy dorms for billions of dollars, stadiums, and hired like crazy.
- College sports cost lots of money, more than they ever make.
- Colleges are full of highly-paid people who don't teach (administrators, advisors, etc)
- For-profit colleges take money from students and give it to shareholders. And they get away with it.
- Colleges are so deep in debt that many of them will probably be bankrupt in the next 15 years.
- There are entire industries that make money off of college students. They don't want anything to change.
Picking a College is Hard. You're 17 or 18 and making choices that will affect your future for decades.
There are 2 brilliant sources of data that look at the cost of college vs. the payoff: Payscale and Priceonomics.
There are lots of bad choices, and only a few good ones
Private, Nonprofit Universities
Private, For-Profit Universities
STAY THE HELL AWAY!
The Real Problem
- Income isn't going up. It's flat or going down.
- The real problem is income inequality. Jobs that pay well and make you not feel corrupt are pretty rare
- This is very true in the US
- This is true in Europe, too
- There's a huge emphasis on graduating lots of students so that well-paying jobs now will go down in price (because there is more labor supply). This is STEM
What are the Alternatives?
Well, the future of learning is all about choice.
Community College & then transfer
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)
Debt is Evil
Debt is one of the most subtly evil and destructive forces around. If you owe lots of money, you can end up in a painful cycle of always struggling to make payments and never getting free.
The average student graduates with $29,400 in debt. With normal interest rates, that is $225 a month for 20 years, for a total of $53,900.
Student debt is particularly nasty because it's so hard to get rid of. You can't get rid of it by declaring bankruptcy. Lenders can garnish your wages. And if anything happens to you, your parents and future spouse can end up with the debt.
It's Worse Than You Think
The trap is guaranteed. The escape route isn't
For-profit colleges are particularly bad
Graduate Degrees Don't Help
Financial Aid Is Going to the Wrong People
Lots of Debt, no guarantee of a good job
If You Want to Know More
College Metrics and Gaming the System
Tests Measure the Wrong Thing
Nobody Knows How to Fix This
Picking a College and Admissions
What should you 'really' learn in college?
This blog post presents a biased view; it emphasizes the financial aspects of higher education (cost to attend, ROI of a degree) far more than their value to society, the intrinsic value of a college experience to a young adult, and so forth.
That's the point. Students already hear enough about the importance of going to college that I want to provide a counterpoint.
In addition, I haven't looked at higher education in other countries, vocational schools, service learning, or apprenticeships. There are many, many options available to young people, but they require research and curiosity to find.
I expect smart young students to face different perspectives and narratives, analyze the merits of each, and come to their own conclusions.