There’s been a lot of talk during the past few years about how college, with its rising costs and its increasing debt burden on its students, just isn’t “worth” the costs anymore. I remember getting into a few arguments about the book Shop Class as Soul Craft. It seemed like a lot of people I knew – who had all gone to elite colleges, had advanced graduate degrees, and were born into families where people also went to elite colleges — were talking about how our educational problems could be solved if all these high school graduates forgot about college and could just start working on motorcycles or crafting furniture.
The process through which kids make decisions about college does need to be changed. Kids need more information about the long-term consequences and returns of their choices about education. I have long thought that kids need to be sat down and showed data about the costs of college and about the long-term gains from getting a degree. As this Atlantic article describes, low-income kids generally underestimate the amount of financial aid for which they will qualify, as well as the lifetime financial benefits of a college degree.
From my own interviews with low-income kids, I have seen how difficult it can be to alter a child’s long-term goals based on a rational calculation that less education also has consequences. Yes, getting a four-year degree as a first-generation college student from a good college probably means that you’ll have debt. (Trust me, I know all about student loans.) But not going to college or a enrolling in a good post-secondary program will also limit your choices. On average, you will make a lot less money. On average, you are more like to be unemployed. You are more likely to have to rely on state or federal assistance on some point.
What do you think the real crisis is in post-secondary education?