Degrees are becoming more important while tuition steadily rises
The promise of a college degree as a pathway into the middle and upper-middle classes has been part of the American dream for over four decades, when the “college for all” movement came into vogue. Unfortunately, the cost of a university education has exploded, even as colleges spend less money per student than prior to 2008.
Many companies require a four-year degree for entry level positions in common career areas like sales or marketing. This is a problem, since there are many positions that do not (or should not) in practice require a degree, but do. That leads to an inflation of students getting degrees, since it become a prerequisite.
Another problem is the rise of for-profit education. For-profit colleges often leave their graduates unemployed (at rates in excess of 20 percent), in debt, and defaulting on loans.
But universities as a whole have another problem: The rise of an “arms race” in amenities. More and more colleges are defunding their departments to spend massive amount of money on various construction projects, like luxurious dorm rooms and opulent athletic facilities. Often, the goal of these building projects is to outpace other colleges and acquire the patronage of wealthy students and their families. It is a disgrace.
Alternative paths to the middle class exist; career and technical education being the foremost among them. But that is not everyone’s path. What about social workers, who need a four-year degree, or teachers? What about people who want to become lawyers or engineers?
The primary problem, however, is the rise of administrative dominance and the increasing corporatization of higher education. Simply put, universities are becoming more and more like mega-corporations, with associated higher costs and administrative bloat. More and more universities are replacing tenure-track academics with adjuncts, hurting professors, research, and ultimately, students.
Student services might be increasing, but it’s often the services that students need the most that are underserved. Mental health services, for instance, are often in crisis at universities, understaffed because of a lack of willingness by leadership to pay a fair rate.
This entire situation is unsustainable. States need to shoulder a greater burden of the costs as well, since the federal government and students shoulder most of it now. Increased funding for education at the state level is crucial to ensure that we have a workforce which is prepared for working world of the 21st century.
Header photo courtesy of Flickr.