Friday, November 20, 2015

Only 9% Of Recent Students With Debt Think College Worth It

By Professor Doom

     So, there’s celebration that more females than males have degrees from higher education…it’s natural to ask if degrees are worthy to have nowadays.

     We’re raised from a very young age to believe education is everything, that, always, the best, most important thing for a human being is school. Ok, we’re told “education” is everything, not that school is, but we’re told school is the way to get an education…pretty much the only way to get that education is to stay in school. And so our kids graduate high school and move on to…more school.

     I believe education is a valuable thing, precious, even, but I want to talk about school, more specifically, higher education, or college, or university, which all refer to the same thing, more or less. As a nation we’re paying a fortune to put our high school graduates into higher education, it’s very fair to ask, “is it worth it?”

     “Worth” is a touchy subject, but ultimately it’s a personal one. I don’t think it’s worth $10,000 or more to get a ticket to the Superbowl, but obviously, people freely pay this…the buyers of such tickets obviously think it’s worth it.

      Higher education isn’t quite like a ticket, of course, since the bill generally doesn’t come until after you’ve made the purchase, and you don’t really know what you’ve purchased until later.

     The sellers of higher education insist with great confidence that higher education is worth it, always. So what do the purchasers of the very expensive higher education say about the value of their product?

      Look at that, half of our college graduates believe that they paid a fair price for whatever it is they got out of college1. Considering that, for many, higher education is a government product, this is pretty stellar. Other government products, like speed traps, don’t get anywhere near 50% satisfaction from the victims citizens, and I bet our soldiers aren’t real wild about another major product of the US government, wars.

     Now, this survey was on around 30,000 people, and they took effort to make sure that the sample was representative of the US population. Well, the population of college graduates, anyway, and moreover graduates over the course of the last few generations. I’ve never claimed that higher education was always a problem, what’s become of it recently is the issue.

     Focus on more recent graduates, and the numbers change for the worse:

    As we get closer to today, the satisfaction drops rather sharply. Focus on the last ten years, and only 38% of recent graduates think they got fair value for today’s version of higher education. The distinction is relevant.

When my father went to the same college I do now, his grade was usually based entirely on the final exam, though sometimes with a midterm counting for something. Attendance was optional and even a required textbook was rare, since Chaucer or quantum physics don't change much based on the book you are reading.
Today, as little as 20% of your grade is based on any exam, and most of your grade is based on hundreds of meaningless assignments that pile up if you don't get to them right away. Often, they're all based on a book that is horribly written to the point of being incomprehensible and useless outside the course, but costs around $200. You're graded on attendance, which combined with the homework makes it hard if not impossible to work to pay for college on your own and do it on time. I even had a professor grade notes, something I have not had to deal with since middle school.

    This is a rather important difference, at least for me, because higher education of 30 or more years ago was a very different creature than what we see today. There are many courses where passing is trivial. A sample course from a nearby university makes 40% of the grade homework from a book where the answers are for sale online for $9 or so, and another 20% of the grade is based on attendance, and sets a grade of C to 50% or better; show up every other day, and you pass. I’m not kidding, and studies show many courses aren’t even this challenging. Higher education today is relatively easy, and very expensive, but it was a very different beast a generation ago, where tuition was far lower and passing was far more difficult, at least on far more campuses than today.

     Part of the reason today’s higher education is a mess is the student loan scam, and the satisfaction numbers drop further for the people suckered into taking on debt:

Among graduates who took out student loans of any amount, 33 percent said they strongly agreed that their education was worth what they spent. As their amount of student debt increased, the graduates were less likely to see the value of their education. About 43 percent of graduates who borrowed $25,000 or less strongly agreed that college was worth what they paid. For those who borrowed between $25,001 and $50,000, 30 percent strongly agreed with the statement.
Among alumni who were in more than $50,000 of debt, only 18 percent said they strongly agreed that college was worth their investment.

     Like every other product, as the price increases, the number of people that think the product is “worth it” drops. We’re now down from 38%, to more like 33% or less of college graduates think their education was worth the cost—it’s almost certainly lower than 33% for the more recent, more indebted, college graduates. Let’s just call this 30% of graduates in the last six years who also took on debt really think their college time was worth it.

     But…wait a second, this study only looked at college graduates. That’s not a fair restriction at all. Everyone that goes to college pays, not just the graduates. So, to really get a fair estimate of people that think college is worth it, we need to consider everyone that’s paying for it, not just the ones that graduate.

     Measuring this sort of thing is hard, as students might leave school, then come back after a few years. That said, we know that around 70% of community college students fail over an infinite timeline, and most students in higher education are in community college. A 2 year program in community college, as one might suspect, is far, far, easier to graduate from than a 4 year degree program…it’s a safe bet that over all of higher education, we’re looking at a similar failure rate, if not much lower. It’s a generous assumption to say, then, that college graduates represent about 30% of those who go to college. 

      I have to make another assumption here, but I trust the gentle reader will concede the point: the people that go to college and fail, receiving nothing from it besides expense and a waste of time, will nearly all agree that college was not worth it. Certainly those that, in addition, are in debt for nothing won’t think they got a good deal.

     Now let’s put the data together, for higher education as it stands today for our students taking on debt. 30%, probably less, of students who go into higher education actually graduate; not all take loans, but that’s an upper limit for the loan takers. Of those graduates who do get loans, 30%, probably less, of college graduates with debt think college is worth it.

     Put those two numbers together and we have an upper estimate of the students that take loans for college, manage to get a degree, and think it’s worth it. 30% of 30% is:


     Seriously, more than nine out of ten students think they’ve made mistake by taking out a loan for higher education. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s very clear that taking on debt to go to higher education is a decision that the majority of students regret. So now can we get rid of the student loan scam?

     Granted, there are many good schools out there, and in those good schools, I’m sure the percentage of people that think they’re getting fair value is quite high. But, for every MIT, Harvard, Yale, and the like, there are dozens and dozens of colleges that simply take students in, wring them dry of their student loan money, and churn them out…and the vast majority of those students certainly feel that college wasn’t worth it.

      My numbers might be off a bit, I admit…but we’re looking at around a 9% satisfaction rate here for what we’re doing in our higher education system with the student loan scam. It’s time to take a long hard look at all the changes of the last few decades, all of which are paid for and wouldn’t exist except for the student loan scam: the “student as customer” paradigm, the microagression coddling, the perpetual dumbing down of the coursework, the social promotion at the college level, and the huge remediation scam that makes 90% of coursework in college not even college level coursework.

      The previous are all due the idea that getting and keeping more students means more money for the institution because of those loans; in turn, this money has led to the “vision for excellence” foolishness, the bloating of our administrative caste, the skyrocketing administrative pay, the ridiculous real estate building/buying spree, the insane focus on sportsball over academics, the grossly increasing class sizes, the prostitution of our graduates, and all the rest.

      It’s time to ask in all sincerity: are all these changes really helping our citizens get a satisfactory education? 

      Now, much of the dissatisfaction can be attributed to the student loan scam, but please realize that even without restricting to indebted students, we’re only looking at an upper end of 15% satisfaction…and that’s still terrible. Just how many signs that something is very wrong in higher education today do we need?

1.    To be fair, half say “strongly agree” their education was worth the cost, as opposed to lesser levels of agreement, or disagreement, but since this is the standard our rulers of higher education set for themselves, I’m going with the study’s numbers based on this level of agreement.

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