Bader: Tuition outweighs college value

Anthony Bader

Considering everything universities claim to — but don’t — provide to students these days, higher education costs too much. When universities recruit high school students, one of their main selling points is the fact that if you get a degree, you will be more likely to get a better job and make more money over the course of your life. There are other advantages offered, such as a great campus, experienced professors, etc., but the main reason students attend college is for the whole job and money thing.

This very week, a Des Moines Register article reported that in 2012, 88 percent of freshmen were “going to college to get a good job,” referencing a report by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Many colleges across the nation estimate that college graduates, compared to non-college graduates, will earn over $1 million more in their lifetime, according to the United States census interpretation of its 2011 American Community Survey. According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, however, the average figure is actually closer to $650,000. These estimates obviously vary depending on what career path a student takes, but the point remains that the economic advantage of a degree is not quite as high as prospective students are led to believe.

The reason that universities use the larger figure for recruiting is that they are being run as businesses. At the end of the day, the primary goal of a business is to make money in order to perpetuate its own existence. Public universities should not be run like private businesses, though. The fact that they are public would reasonably imply that they exist primarily for the good of the public.

Universities can serve students better. Instead of requiring four years of school to get a degree, each of which saddles students with more and more debt, universities can cut general education courses from their requirements. They could also institute a tiered level of tuition for each year: the first year would be the cheapest and the fourth year would be the most expensive. This would aid those who either finish college early, or never end up earning a degree. Students who do not finish their degree would then not have to deal with as much debt in addition to their loss of potential earning ability.

Of course, tuition is not the only thing holding students back in the higher education system. Classes do not sufficiently prepare students for specific jobs. Introductory classes that typically take place in large lecture halls are rarely challenging enough to warrant spending thousands of dollars in tuition on them. Tuition needs to be lower for the first two years of college, or introductory courses need to be abbreviated, if required at all. Higher level courses should likewise be more hands-on and more closely resemble an actual work environment.

Classes are supposed to prepare students for the workforce, but a classroom is nothing like working at a company. Most classes require you to sit in a class, look forward, listen to someone lecture and stay silent until called upon. It is an extremely passive environment. On the other hand, working for a company requires you to work in groups, speak up and think of original ideas. There are classes that revolve around these ideas, but not nearly enough.

Another inefficient aspect of today’s higher education is the emphasis on finding internships. Universities claim that they are beneficial because they give students real work experience, which is essential to adapting to the work required in a real career. If students are paying their university thousands of dollars to prepare them for a career, why would they be encouraged to better prepare themselves for the workforce by seeking experience through an internship? That should be the university’s job.

No matter how insufficient our higher education system is, attending a university is a great opportunity, and it is still more advantageous to earn a degree than to forego one. However, that does not mean it is okay for the system to take advantage of millions of students’ desires for more economically comfortable lives. Technically no one is required to attend college just to get a job, but there is such intense pressure from both parents and society to earn a college degree that students begrudgingly accept sky-high debt for the chance at a higher income. Those of us at universities in America are getting the short end of the stick, and something needs to change.