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Making College Affordable

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March 15, 2012 – Comments (8)

Board: Macro Economics

Author: salaryguru

I should add that the student loan debacle are at least partly based on cultural memes that are unfortunately (in my opinion) wrong and destructive. These memes include "everyone should have/ deserves a college education"

I have to disagree here, not that this meme is wrong, but that this meme is real. I know of no one who actually believes or says that everyone should have a college education. I'm sure someone has said it at some point in time, but not many. The only time I ever hear this meme is when people who don't want to pay taxes start fighting to strip funding from university education investments.

What is more commonly said is that everyone should be able to afford a college education. That's a very different statement. It is a statement prompted by the realization that human potential is not an asset that lies only among the wealthy. Many with incredible potential to contribute great things to our society are not born wealthy. We do not serve society well if we eliminate the possibility that deserving people with great potential can afford college. So it is a very noble thing to say, "It is a goal to make college education affordable by everyone."

Now, there are at least two ways to make college affordable: 1- subsidize university education to bring down the cost, or 2- simply reduce the quality and expense of earning a degree until it is cheap enough. The first method is what used to work. The second is the "for-profit" education approach that is failing so miserably right now.

When university educations were subsidized well, universities could focus on providing superior graduates. They could accept the students who seemed to have most potential. There was no pressure to accept "unqualified" students nor to grant degrees to those that did not perform. Not all were accepted, but most of those who graduated were well-prepared to contribute to society.

By stripping public funding from advanced education, we opened up the possibility for "for profit" diploma mills to appear competitive with state schools. We placed the primary emphasis of colleges to be to turn profit - not to provide outstanding graduates. And the best way to turn profit was to make every consumer happy. Half of you want a degree in Underwater Basketweaving? No problem. Pay us and we'll give it to you.

Capitalism is a wonderful system for making the cost of toothpaste low. Competition and the quest for wealth breeds innovation that benefits the consumer. But for-profit diplomas have not served society well. They have not served our education system well. Our population is out of work at least partly because they are unqualified to do the jobs the world needs done right now. There may be hundreds of people with a degree from Interstate 40 College of Anything for Price, but they aren't qualified to do anything but play video games or draw fashion models or . . . They got what the college sold them - a diploma. They didn't get an education because that would have cost more money and cut into profits.

. . . and "college is a time to find oneself/ learn great thoughts/ learn how to think, not acquire useful skills" and several more.

I don't think college has to be a trade school for everyone. I studied electrical engineering, so it was for me. But society can afford to educate some to think great thoughts. And if someone can afford to take a year off in college to backpack Europe (that's what the rich kids did when I was an undergrad) I don't begrudge them. Myself, I hitchhiked across the country during 1/2 of my Summer break a couple of times. It made finances more difficult when I got back to school, but I made it up with extra hours at my part time jobs during the Semester.

The student loan debacle affects both parents who borrowed (or spent their retirement funds) to educate their children and students who borrowed on their own.

When I went to college, no one in my family had ever graduated from college before. My father was a coal miner. My mother a housewife and part-time clerk. My parents wouldn't have known the difference between a degree from Downtown College of Big Ideas and MIT - except for the cost. They could never have afforded to send me to MIT. Fortunately for me, the University of Illinois was a really good engineering school and I was able to win a scholarship, work part time and get a degree without debt. That couldn't happen today. I almost certainly would have ended up with a mining engineering degree from the local community college because that is the best I could do. Or ended up with so much debt that the degree would never pay for itself.

But I wouldn't be the only loser from the loss of low cost quality education. Thousands of others who were able to get quality college educations have contributed significantly to society in countless ways.
We have cluttered up the college decisions with too many schools and too many majors of dramatically varying quality and value. How are people with no college experience from backgrounds of little or no college experience supposed to make an informed decision?

8 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On March 15, 2012 at 12:09 PM, SkepticalOx (99.43) wrote:

Wait, so what is your suggestion exactly to fix this problem? More public financing for university? 

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#2) On March 15, 2012 at 12:28 PM, DJDynamicNC (36.66) wrote:

^^^ Yes.

Current Pell Grant exenditures - 36.1 billion dollars annually.


That's the cost of two weeks of defense spending.

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#3) On March 15, 2012 at 12:41 PM, outoffocus (22.80) wrote:

I have to disagree here, not that this meme is wrong, but that this meme is real. I know of no one who actually believes or says that everyone should have a college education. I'm sure someone has said it at some point in time, but not many. The only time I ever hear this meme is when people who don't want to pay taxes start fighting to strip funding from university education investments.

Its not said, its implied.  The American Dream (as it currently stands) says get a college degree, get a good paying job, and buy a house.  The problem is in the past decade ALL of those things began to crumble because instead of pursuing the correct path for their own lives, everyone pursued "the American Dream".  As a result all of these areas became over-crowded, expensive,  diminshed in quality, and largely financed by debt. Now they are so expensive that is causing more hardship than prosperity.  All of these areas will have to correct themselves before we can see any meaningful recovery in our economy.  Continuing to subsidize these areas will not improve anything.  

Entitlement mentalities and loose money has financed many bubbles (misallocations of capital) over the past few decades.  And instead of letting these bubbles correct, many of them continue to be subsidized with cheap money and tax dollars.  There for it will take a few more decades to fully flush these misallocations out of our system.  In the meantime we are in for a world of hurt. 

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#4) On March 15, 2012 at 4:50 PM, JaysRage (89.07) wrote:

I do not beleive that everyone should be college educated.   I do think that removing some economic barriors to success can be beneficial, but I also think that there are a number of very effective programs in place to do that already.   In fact, in today's world, college education is becomes a weaker and weaker investment, as more and more of the knowledge base and opposing viewpoints that used to be exclusive to college are available via the web.    I'm personally not interested in paying for someone else to "find oneself".     I find that to be a particularly bad investment. 

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#5) On March 15, 2012 at 7:53 PM, katinga (38.79) wrote:

What I've heard is that a plumber earns more lifetime than a MD general practicioner. Don't know if that's right, but a friend's son is a plumber, and he's financially way ahead of DS. DS has a mechanical engineer's degree, a marginal job after getting laid off from a good one, and a load of debt he currently pays zero for, because his salary is too low to do pay anything within an income-based repayment scheme. Oh, and friend's son has started a family while DS is can't afford to do so.

 But DS has figured this out. He's learning a skill and hopefully will be able to start over after wasting time and money in a worthless college program.

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#6) On March 16, 2012 at 9:56 PM, devoish (98.66) wrote:

Interesting.  

Or ended up with so much debt that the degree would never pay for itself.

The American Dream (as it currently stands) says get a college degree, get a good paying job, and buy a house   

In fact, in today's world, college education is becomes a weaker and weaker investment, 

 What I've heard is that a plumber earns more lifetime than a MD general practicioner. 

How much do I get paid? Maybe there is too much focus on what your education is worth to someone else, and not on what learning is really worth to you. Perhaps you are part of a "systemic" failure. 

"I want to cure aids".

"I want to go to the moon".

"I want to grow pesticide free food".

"I want to explore the deepest ocean".

"I want to make films".

"I want to understand Shakespeare". 

Those were not your reasons for college.   

I'm personally not interested in paying for someone else to "find oneself".     I find that to be a particularly bad investment.  

This is the cause of failure. A system that tries to value life as a financial investment. 

Best wishes,

Steven 

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#7) On March 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM, JaysRage (89.07) wrote:

Congratulations on taking my comments out of context and making my statement out to be purely a monetary calculation.    What I am saying is that the value of college, not just as a monetary investement, but even as a collection of intellect and ideas and collaboration is diminishing.    College as the only place to take the best first step to do any of these....

1.  "I want to cure aids".

2.  "I want to go to the moon".

3.  "I want to grow pesticide free food".

4.  "I want to explore the deepest ocean".

5.  "I want to make films".

6.  "I want to understand Shakespeare". 

is extremely debatable.   I would argue that the only one of these listed things where I would start in the college system with is curing AIDS.....purely because of the research banks that are available in the college research departments.   However, you could make a case that the widely available publishings are a better place to start.     For 3-6, I wouldn't start in a college.   I'd start on the web.    We live in a changing world.  College no longer holds exclusivity in it's ability to expose us to knowledge and collaboration in many of the areas where it used to hold such exclusivity.     Therefore, it is a diminishing value.  

Finding onself can range anywhere from partying to meeting a potential spouse to finding a religion to any other kinds of experiences.....that again.....the are not exclusive to college.....other than having young people gather physically in one place, what does college even offer in this area that cannot be accomplished by volunteering or traveling or otherwise socially gathering?    

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#8) On March 20, 2012 at 5:07 PM, devoish (98.66) wrote:

Jaysrage,

Fair enough. I took it in the context of the other replies too. 

For 3,4,5 I would definitely start in college, not on the web.  

For 6 I could see being guided to appropriate web resources. 

"Finding oneself" is not what you go to college for. You go to college for a well rounded/balanced education in a variety of subjects. "Finding oneself" is something else that happens often. Kind of like a cherry on top of the education.

best wishes,

Steven 

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