Is a day of reckoning coming for higher education?

Most parents of college-age children will attest to the skyrocketing expense of a college education.  The cost of a bachelor’s degree at a private college can run some $200,000. And for those who graduated from good ol’ State U back in the day, be prepared for sticker shock when you look at tuition levels and expenses for many publicly supported colleges.

Since the 1980s, two steady trends have been (1) continuous increases in tuition at rates beyond inflation; and (2) loans supplanting grants as the primary form of financial aid. Students are now leaving college with debt levels once reserved for graduates of professional school programs that promised high salaries in return.

Still and all, it has remained a gospel truth that earning a bachelor’s degree is worth it.

Not so fast

Francesca DiMeglio, writing for Business Week, reports on the magazine’s study of the economic value of a bachelor’s degree:

If there’s one truism that goes virtually unchallenged these days, it’s that a college degree has great value. . . . Over the course of a working life, college graduates earn more than high school graduates. Over the past decade, research estimates have pegged that figure at $900,00, $1.2 million, and $1.6 million.

But new research suggests that the monetary value of a college degree may be vastly overblown. According to a study conducted by PayScale for Bloomberg Businessweek,the value of a college degree may be a lot closer to $400,000 over 30 years and varies wildly from school to school.

To accompany its study, the magazine has developed a ranking study for colleges and universities based on tuition levels and graduate earnings.  The study concludes that:

the number of schools that actually make good on the estimates of the earlier research is vanishingly small. There are only 17 schools in the study whose graduates can expect to recoup the cost of their education and out-earn a high school graduate by $1.2 million, including four where they can do so to the tune of $1.6 million.

Is it all about earnings?

I’m not crazy about evaluating institutions of higher learning solely on how much their graduates earn.  A college degree should be about more than vocational clout and salary levels.  Degrees in the liberal arts, for example, may not translate into the highest paying jobs, especially in the years immediately following graduation, but they provide an exposure to important ideas and ways of thinking.

Nevertheless, college costs are out of control, and I can’t blame Business Week (or any other periodical or organization) for questioning the costs and benefits and evaluating whether future earnings justify the price tag.

A day of reckoning?

I doubt that we’ll see hundreds of thousands of high school graduates suddenly abandoning their college plans anytime soon. And plenty of adults will continue to return to school to finish up a degree.  However, the marketplace of higher education is headed for a crash. Rising college costs are starting to look a lot like the American health care system: The status quo is unsustainable.

It is anyone’s guess as to what this shakeout will look like, but unless existing colleges and universities get their act together quickly, the fallout will not be pretty for them.


Go here for a related post, “Law schools and the legal job market.”

8 responses

  1. Of course a day of reckoning is coming. The problem with the system is it puts degrees over actual education. You have a degree so therefore you are “educated” but if you pay attention to just about any college, you’ll realize that many people get degrees without learning a darn thing. And many people without degrees are completely brilliant.

  2. imagine working here:

    UC Principles and Values?! (links):

    * Schwarzenegger vetoes whistleblower protections for UC workers (2009)
    * UC regents Schwarzenegger and Wachter – are they making a profit from university investments? (2010)
    * Billion Dollar Baby: The University of California invests $53 million in two diploma mills owned by a regent. (2010)
    * Sen. Yee clashes with UC, CSU over Alumni , Donor Privacy (2010)
    * UCSF head has millions in Medical, Drug Stocks (2010)
    * Audit demands investment reform, we hope- Daily Bruin (2010)
    * UCSF Chancellor and controversial tobacco stock(2010)
    * UC Regents sue UCLA radiology professor Robert Lufkin for engaging in non-UC work (2010)
    * Federal Civil Rights Suit Brought Against UCLA, UC Regents For Copying Prof Lufkin’s Hard Drive (2010)
    * Operational Mediocrity- Daily Californian (2010)
    * Protest Studies, The New Yorker (2010)
    * Protest Studies: California is broke, and Berkeley is in revolt (2010)
    * UCLA consultant involved in accounting scandal (2010)
    * More Scandals Uncovered at UC, Yee Requests State Audit (2010)
    * UC regents OK millions in incentive pay to top execs (2010)
    * UC Davis pays settlement to whistleblower over retaliation (2010)
    * Former UC Davis employee sentenced for theft (2009)
    * UC Admits Misleading Public About Senior Executive Buyout Taker (2009)
    * List of Salaries of UC Highest Paid Employees (2009)
    * UC Boss Mark Yudof’s Case Against Himself (2009)
    * U.S. Senator Grassley Raises Concerns About Integrity of Finances at University of California System (2009)
    * UC regents award huge pay increases to execs while furloughing staff (2009)
    * Audit finds excessive expenses by CSU and UC Senior Administrator (2009)
    * POGO praises U.S. Senator Grassley for raising concerns about integrity of finances at UC (2009)
    * Yakuza Mob and UCLA Med Center on CBS “60 Minutes” by Lara Logan (2009)
    * UC San Diego Data Security Hotline Swamped (2009)
    * UC Irvine to fire whistleblower nurse?! (2009)
    * New UC Davis Chancellor Linked to “Clout” Admissions Probe (2009)
    * UC San Francisco belatedly announces September data breach (2009)
    * A Tangled Web At Berkeley by UC Santa Cruz Professor John Ellis (2009)
    * UC Berkeley Journalism Students Data Breached (2009)
    * UC Davis Chancellor’s Actions Cause Concern (2009)
    * Senator Grassley Supports UCSF Whistleblower (2009)
    * Negligence Caused UCLA Death State safety and health agency faults university for training lapses, unsafe practices (2009)
    * Deadly UCLA lab fire leaves haunting questions (2009)
    * UC Berkeley computers hacked-160,000 staff,student, alumni etc at risk (2009)
    * Cal/OSHA chief to oversee criminal investigation of fatal UCLA lab fire (2009)
    * What can be learned from the death of a young biochem student at UCLA? (2009)
    * Berkeley Chancellor delivers grim budget news.. (2009)
    * UC Spending Big Despite Budget Crisis video KTVU News (2009)
    * Farrah Fawcett helped prove UCLA leaked her health records (2009)
    * UC Berkeley Alums Get Breached…AGAIN! (2009)
    * UC ‘s Egregious Actions (video-youtube) (2009)
    * UCB RIP by Erik Tarloff – Atlantic Monthly(2009)
    * Court: U.C. Whistleblowers Have Nowhere to Go (2008)
    * After Livers, Cash to UCLA (2008)
    * Japanese Mob Boss Gave $100,000 to UCLA, rewards after controversial liver transplant (2008)
    * Fired UCSF dean says review backs his claim of irregularities (2008)
    * UCSF refuses to release outside review of its finances (2008)
    * WhistleBlower Dean David Kessler Fired From UCSF (2008)
    * Big raises for CSU, UC-executives prompt bill (2008)
    * Meet Linda Morris Williams, in charge of whistle blowing at Cal – Severance AND new UC job for aide in pay scandal (2008)
    * UC Chief Yudof Changes Buyout Policy (2008)
    * ID theft at UC Irvine- Scammers used stolen data to file false tax returns, steal students’ refunds (2008)
    * 6,000 UCSF patients’ data got put online (2008)
    * Audit Firms backs up fired UCSF Med School dean claim (2008)
    * UCLA Dentist Whistleblower Resigns Post (2008)
    * UC Irvine Med Center still out of compliance (2008)
    * UC Irvine ID Theft Caused By Data Breach (2008)
    * Court Rules Against University of California Whistleblowers (2008)
    * Movie Sharing Program Causes A Security Breach In University Of California San Francisco (2008)
    * After the Fall (2008)
    * Union protest pre-empts chancellor’s annual meeting with staff (2008)
    * UCSF Research Computer Containing Cancer Patient Information Stolen (2007)
    * UC Officials override rules to give more than $1 million to 70 execs (2007)
    * Regent Blum Slams UC System in Report (2007)
    * UC’S Top Regent Bashes UC System (2007)
    * UCSF Server Breached, Staff, Faculty and Students Notified (2007)
    * Regents excuse UC president in salary scandal (2007)
    * UC Davis Criminal Probe Launched Into Computer Hacking of Vet School Admissions Info (2007)
    * UC President Robert Dynes example of larger UC problem written by former Regent Ward Connerley ( 2007)
    * Data security breach at UCSF may have exposed thousands (2007)
    * Scandal Mars UC Chief’s Legacy (2007)
    * The scandal, the scapegoat, and the suicide (2007)
    * Low-rate loans for UC’s elite on homes Some less than 2 percent — system won’t divulge names (2006)
    * UC audit blasts administrators, president’s office (2006)
    * 700 at UC awarded $23 million in exit pay Lucrative deals for faculty, staff, some with legal claims (2006)
    * Computer Breach Might Have Exposed Student Information (2006)
    * UCLA Breach Exposes Almost One Million Identities (2006)
    * 32 patients on the liver transplant waiting list died while UCI Medical Center rejected scores of viable organs(2006)
    * UC Irvine Med Center Administrators Ignored Federal Warnings (2006)
    * Berkeley chancellor’s perks raise eyebrows (2006)
    * UC said to break meeting laws Exec pay votes must be open, counsel says (2005)
    * Free mansions for people of means – UC system spends about $1,000,000 a year just on upkeep (2005)
    * UC Davis cuts deal to avoid bias suit Ex-vice chancellor gets $205,000 job — regents didn’t know (2005)
    * UC Pres. Dynes appears to have violated university policy by quietly granting M.R.C. Greenwood a $125,000 cash payment (2005)
    * UC Piling Extra Cash On Top of Pay (2005)
    * LANL (Los Alamos National Lab) Whistle-Blower Beaten (2005)
    * The Case of the Battered Whistle-Blower (2005)
    * Kin of 9 who died waiting accuse UCI (2005)
    * Stolen Laptop Recovered, Fate Of 98,000 Records Unknown (2005)
    * UCLA acknowledges sale of body parts as donors’ families sue school (2004)
    * UCLA suspends its Willed Body Program (2004)
    * Whistleblowers at Los Alamos Fired in Retaliation (2002)
    * When Scientists Kidnap Embryos (2000)
    * UCSD Big Money and the Ball Club (2000)
    * Claims Against UC Irvine’s Fertility Clinic (1997)

    • Cloudminder, that’s quite a list! (In addition, you get the unofficial award for the longest comment in the short history of this blog…)

      Readers, if you click on cloudminder’s name, you’ll go to a very interesting blog on the ups and downs of the University of California system.

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  6. Pingback: $200k in student loans for a bachelor’s degree: Sign of a system gone haywire « Minding the Workplace

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