Thursday, January 22, 2009

ABC's 20/20 Says College is a Ripoff

I was flipping through the television channels last week and landed on the ABC show 20/20. Before I could continue my ritualistic channel surfing, I heard the phrase "college is a ripoff." This certainly caught my attention and I watched the story by John Stossel. His reports are usually provocative and this one was no exception. This report raises many questions and issues that are directly relevant to the future of higher education in terms of its role in providing students a liberal arts education and/or providing them the skills they need to directly enter the job market. It is no secret that our own institution is trying to increase enrollment and this report might make some high school students think twice about obtaining a college degree. If we feel that this report is misleading, how do we do a better job promoting the value of a college degree? What role should faculty and staff play in this process?

I invite you to view John Stossel's story on YouTube (or watch it above) and click COMMENT at the end of this post to give us your thoughts or reaction to any of the issues raised in this report.


Anonymous said...

John Stossel did pretty well with his BA in Psychology from Princeton!

Anonymous said...

There are three issues at play in this story.

1) Unfortunately, Mr. Stossel makes a common mistake in his analysis of the effect of higher education on salaries. He is using anecdotal evidence to support his conclusions. It is possible to find many people that have failed with or without a degree. We cannot predict the effect of education on any one student, but we can predict the effect on the average or median student.

2) Because bachelors degrees have become more common, they are required for advancement beyond low level management in most businesses and often required for lower level positions (science, the media, education).

3) As an institution of higher learning we should do more to recognize and be aware of the job prospects for our disciplines. As a biologist, I know that students are unlikely to get a position doing biology unless they have at least a masters degree, unless they go into secondary education.

As a further note, I think that higher education should be viewed as more than a job development platform. Regardless of our discipline, we are helping to train students how to think critically about the world around us. As the world becomes a faster moving, more complicated place, we need those skills to be effective citizens. Perhaps the question should not be, "Why can't students pay off their loans?", but should be instead, "What has happened to the support of the higher education system in this country that students need to become indebted to the teeth to go to college?".

Rett Weber

Howard Whiteman said...

The issue here seems to be college educators being too flippant with statistics (like the $1M difference) and making promises that they shouldn't make. On the other hand, any student that heard such a promise and believed it would happen would have been better off not going to college in the first place. We certainly have an obligation not to mislead out prospective students, but they (and their parents) also have an obligation to be realistic about the student's future, and whether the cost will be worth it. In the end, it is the student's choice to attend or not; we don't force them.

Another point is that whether the students in the video know it or not, they gained a lot from college that has nothing to do with their career, and to me that value is likely greater than that associated with the career. Whether everyone appreciates such gains is a different question.

Interesting post Ricky!

Jessica Lovett said...

I agree with Rett Weber on his point #3 that we need to be aware of what is "out there" for our prospective graduates within our programs. I teach in the nursing program and I can advise my students, with confidence, that they will be given an opportunity for a job when they graduate with their BSN. I think the 20/20 program sends a very dangerous and misleading message to young people.

Cat said...

I agree that this program sends a dangerous message - I also feel John Stossel didn't do his job when interviewing the woman and two men who were complaining about their lack of employment options. Did they seek internships, did they look into colleges that are less costly, why do they have so much debt (is that JUST tuition or did they cram some other things in there), were they willing to move to other markets, were they strong, determined students, did they finish in 4 years?? Lots of questions left unanswered - not the quality investigative reporting I would expect if I were the producer of 20/20.

Eric Frederick, MS, ATC; Dept. of Wellness, Therapeutic Science said...

First off, I don't know that anyone, and in particular, anyone at Murray State promises our students anything, much less a job when they graduate. The notion in the report that colleges and universities are promising this to students, is false. I make it very clear to my students that they will most likely need a graduate degree to find the type of job they are looking for. In order to get this, they are relagated to a bachelor's degree.

I think as faculty and staff, particularly at an instituion that is enrollment driven, we have to be careful what we tell perspective students in regards to expectations after college. After all, it is actually what the student makes of it, not what we make for them.

Terry Derting said...

I found the quality of the report to be poor, but also think the value of education is changing; and perhaps the 'advertising' needs to change as well. The report is clearly biased in my opinion, as only unsuccessful students are interviewed and the educational benefits discussed were extremely limited. Money seems to be the crux of the issue, with educational advertising 'promising' high salaries and the students interviewed accruing large debts and low salaries.

The latest numbers I read (as of last week) indicated that college graduates in 2006 (i.e., when the economy was doing 'very well'), after adjusting for inflation, earned less than in 2000. We now educate the masses, with increasing numbers of students who would not have applied/been accepted to a university in decades past. To presume that all, or even the majority, of graduates will gain high paying jobs and be able to easily repay debts of 10s of 1000s of dollars is probably unrealistic. I believe that there is indeed a pool of students who would benefit from a community college or trade school degree and do as well or nearly as well as with a college degree in terms of monetary rewards.

My point is that higher education may need to recognize and promote alternatives to the 4-year university degree which are well-suited for part of the student population. It may also be that students need to be educated about the debt which they will incur by attending high-cost schools, and the probability that they will be able to attain a job with a salary suitable for paying off such a debt. Current educational advertising does lead students to believe that all they need is a bachelor's diploma and they will automatically gain a well-paying job. Increasingly, that is not the case.

Jim Clinger said...

I believe that the report claiming that "college is a rip-off" is far too sweeping to be taken seriously. But so are claims that a college education will add a millions dollars to one's lifetime income. All of our claims about the economic impact of education need to be carefully qualified and supported by analysis that takes into account the specific quality and quantity of education and the market conditions of the time that individuals pursue their careers. Shortly after World War II, a great number of people were able to go to college under the GI Bill and other programs. Upon graduation, those individuals entered a job market in which college graduates were still scarce. The diploma acted as a market signal indicating that its holder had demonstrated some intelligence, diligence, and responsible behavior. Even if students had a background in a field that today would not be regarded marketable, in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, it would be a means to a very decent job and a good income. In recent years, the job market has changed. Far more people go to and even graduate from college. A college diploma does not distinguish one job applicant from most of his or her competitors for a job. In this environment, other criteria, including demonstrable skills, work experience, recommendations, and the type of degree that is earned become more important. In the video clip, a frustrated graduate with a degree in human development was complaining about her difficulties in finding a job. She had attended an expensive private college but now found it difficult to pay off her student loans because she could not find a professional job. Such a case should not be surprising. If someone spends a lot of money to get a degree that does not confer skills and knowledge that are marketable, one should not be shocked that disappointment follows. Perhaps from a purely intellectual, cultural, or social perspective, a non-marketable college degree is worthwhile, but from the standpoint of those who wish to earn a living, it is not. On the other hand, many graduates in a number of fields are finding that they do very well in the job market. They will earn a great deal of money, far exceeding the incomes that they could have earned had they not pursued college. I believe that as educators we need to be honest about how we advise students. They should not be mislead. Nor should we make overly broad generalizations about their earning power if they do or they don't go to college.

Michael said...

I would like to add that I think there is often a disconnect between what is "fed" to the general masses of high school students and what the reality is.

I have freshman that walk through my door that want to know what classes they should take so that when they graduate from MSU they can be a marine biologist. I agree with the previous comments in that, a four-year degree is not for everyone. However, I do believe that getting an education beyond high school is extremely important for two reasons...and that a four year degree is still highly valuable.

(As pointed out earlier) the average age that most students spend during college is during a time when critical thinking develops. Not all of it is learned in the classroom. There is value in the experience as well. This "experience" might not be worth 10-30k a year for tuition, but...

If you take a look at the statistics, the truth is that if you walk through a door to an interview, you have a highschool education, and are competing with someone with a 4 yr degree, the odds are stacked against you - barring a few trade jobs and you have direct experience.

Unfortunately, most high school students have not had the experiences to direct them for a lifelong love of a trade. If a highschool student decides to go to a trade school, they'll have the knowledge for that trade for the rest of their life and some will be highly successful, perhaps even if they switch once or twice between related trades.

However, and I do not have stats to back this up, is there equal success at changing careers with a trade degree as there is with a bachelors degree? (Maybe.)

Arguably, the link between the experiences of a 4yr institution and the education are not the same as they are in other options.

It might be counterproductive to increase/reform admission standards if we are trying to increase enrollment, and it might not be the best way to increase the numbers of successful students, but it might be a short term fix(I know, another bag of worms).