According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse, college enrollment has fallen for the last two years. There is concern that rising student debt may be turning students away.
The average cost of an in-state, four-year college degree is more than $100,000, but only 37 percent of students graduate in four years and 58 percent in six years. This means that college graduates have a lot of debt, and yet the lifetime earnings of some college degrees are lower than the lifetime earnings of a high school graduate.
Partner this with the fact that many college graduates are overqualified for the jobs that are now available and end up working alongside high school graduates. No wonder some parents and students are beginning to question if a college education is a good investment.
It was true many years ago that education was a sign of privilege. A gentleman was educated because he was a gentleman.
He did not need education, but he deserved it. It was a sign of his position. And because education was not to prepare you for anything, there were no limits or requirements as to what could be taught.
Whatever would enhance his station as a gentleman. The poor, women and the low class had little opportunity for education. Now education has become a preparation for the job market.
Regardless of whether you are the child of a poor or rich man, you intend to get a job with your earned degree. And yet our universities still educate as we did many years ago, as if it were a privilege. Possibly not to prepare or improve but simply to say, “I am educated.”
If one could go through the list of degrees at a major university and remove all of those that do not lead directly to a job; all of those degrees that students fall into because they can make good grades, or they require fewer hours to graduate or they have been recruited by professors who “need the numbers” for their departments; universities could cut the cost of a college education significantly.
Would it be painful, yes, would jobs be lost, yes, would unions and politics have to go by the wayside, yes. But jobs were lost by wagon builders and horse breeders when the motor car came in.
Fortunately that did not stop the advent of motor cars, which in the end produced many more jobs. The way to the future can be painful.
The onus is on colleges and major universities to save themselves from declining enrollments through reduced tuition costs; to eliminate the flotsam and keep the degrees that really produce jobs. And while they are saving themselves, they will save our youth from large indebtedness and wasting years in obtaining degrees that produce nothing.
They will also help save those who should not be in college but should be pursuing technical and trade schools that provide necessary skills for securing good jobs. We can no longer afford to encourage our youth to play at college; to spend four to six years getting a degree that is not marketable, just to say they are educated.
All knowledge is valuable, but a college degree must be a guarantee to future employers that a graduate has job-ready skills. It is time to get real about defining education for the future, determining what degrees are marketable and which are not and helping our youth to determine how to educate themselves in ways that will best serve them and our country.
Carol Dark Ayres is a retired educator from Leavenworth. To reach her, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.