It’s fitting that Kentucky Derby Saturday falls on the same day as many college graduation ceremonies. This past weekend when Nyquist crossed the finish line first, paying 2-1 odds at the annual Run for the Roses, it seemed a safer bet than the one many high school seniors are making when they gamble on a college education paying off.
The American dream has been taking lots of hits lately, and nothing illustrates this more than the current college experience. In post-war America the formula was simple: make some short term sacrifices, go to college, graduate, and then enjoy a lifetime of enhanced wages as compared to those who didn’t follow the script. What has upset this apple cart has been the prohibitive increase in the cost of a college education. Bloomberg reports that in the last 30 years the cost of getting a degree has risen nearly 1,200%, which is six times faster than the rise in basic staples like food. Running parallel to this staggering increase, the Economic Policy Institute has calculated that since 1979 real wages are flat or are falling and that “the greatest real wage losses between 2013 and 2014 were among those with a college or advanced degree.”
Although it is still true college graduates make much more on average than others, the initial investment has become overwhelming. It is a common experience in today’s world that four years of attending a well-respected college or university, including room and board, can set a student back a quarter of a million dollars. I repeat, a quarter of a million dollars! In this scenario it is not surprising that college loan debt now exceeds America’s credit card debt, and of the $1.2 trillion of student debt floating around, 17% of the payees are either behind in their payments or defaulting on their loans.
In any economic transaction, the purchaser asks himself either subconsciously or consciously if he believes the price is worth the value for what he is purchasing. With the cost of higher education spiraling out of control, according toForbes, as many as 33% of millennials are second guessing their decision to go to college. Adding to the burdensome cost is that the education being sold is in many cases questionable. Too often the curriculum is neither what the job market needs nor of sound academic standing. Frequently from the courses being offered, to the philosophies and policies of the educational institutions and professors themselves, it is becoming clear that many academics believe part of the goal of the higher educational process is to brand extreme leftist doctrine onto the next generation.
One can’t go a day without reading about some politically correct shenanigans taking place on campus, often at the expense of free speech and freedom of association. Without even reading the details of whatever politically correct folly is happening, we know automatically, as it is always the same, who the scapegoats will be in these made up dramas: males, whites, Christians, Jews, conservatives and fraternities and, of course, the victims will also always be the same cast of characters: women, gays, Islamists, non-whites, and so on.
Returning to thoroughbreds for a moment, a sorority at Dartmouth University this spring was pressured to cancel its annual Kentucky Derby party as such a themed party was considered racist and economically elitist. This is what passes for deep intellectual thought at today’s leading universities. It does raise the question, though: is all this worth a quarter of a million dollars?
Higher education needs help, as it is in crisis. However, the last place I hope the helping hand comes from is Washington D.C., as more likely than not, the kind of help the feds would offer would be of the Bernie-Sanders-free-college sort that naturally would spread the college debt burden onto everyone and accelerate the cost of higher education to the moon.
Our best hope for the future of higher education rests not with government but with emerging technology and the marketplace. With advances in the Internet and the mobility the Internet brings, it is possible that when it comes to education, Thomas Friedman may indeed be correct and The World Is Flat. If so, we are possibly on the verge of an education revolution that will shake the controlling grip from those in ivory towers to a flatter, more affordable educational process that is in tune with students’ needs and will help them attain their educational goals without the political sermons. There may even be occasion again to host Kentucky Derby theme parties.