Has College Gotten Too Affluent?
Jun 2, 2022
There’s a legitimate debate to be had with respect to the necessity of a college education. On the one hand, you have a more traditional view that kids should go to college. On the other side of the debate are people who cite people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated college before launching incredibly successful businesses. There are also countless examples of people who may not have needed a college education for their respective profession, but instead needed a trade school or apprenticeship. However, the debate over college is more nuanced and arguably the most important nuance is in the cost of college.
Since 1990, the cost of a college education, adjusted for inflation, has increased 130%. And while it’s understandable and acceptable for costs to increase along with inflation, the quality of an undergraduate education has arguably not changed much and in many instances, the costs of supplying that education have come down with advances in remote learning.
If we want to get serious about the cost of college, we need to start with equating the cost to expected earnings after graduating. We cannot charge a future teacher the same amount we charge a future doctor or lawyer. We have the data available to understand future earnings potential and the cost of education should align with that. Or we need to start offering GI Bill-style opportunities in professions that rest at the foundation of our future as a nation. Teachers, a doctor in a remote town of Alaska, nurses. Those are the people who spend their lives giving back and improving our communities. People doing those jobs are every bit as important as our military. The very least we can do is help get them the education they need.
We can debate the necessity of college. We can argue over what is learned as an undergrad student. Those are debates worth having. But having that debate and not at the same time taking into consideration the associated costs relative to their respective value is an incomplete debate.
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