Monday, May 16, 2011


Bloomberg highlighted a trend that I think will continue for some time, until pricing of college tuition drops significantly.  The article reports that a recent survey of parents suggests that they feel strongly that higher education is not providing good value.

I've lamented for a long time that the notion that EVERYONE needs to go to college is simply a disaster. 

First, not everyone needs go to college.  The idea that a client service representative in a call center needs to have a college education to do account maintenance on your Sprint phone bill is laughable.    Yes, high quality phone talent is wonderful, but there are bright teens and twenty somethings that can do this without having to endure the rigor or financial cost of 4 or 5 or 6 years of undergraduate education.

Second, not every student that goes to college has the skill set to actually achieve the goal.  In other words, they don't have what it takes.  There are a few things that happen if a student just isn't cut out for it to make it through their time. 
A)  They drop out at a significant cost of their time and money
B)   They overwhelm the system and require professors to dumb down their material (public school system anyone?)
C)  They make it through and somehow earn their way but learn nothing and frankly have a piece of paper that is really a piece of crap.

Third, the ranks of those going to college creates a tidal wave of applicants that makes demand too large for the system.  Due to this we have seen for-profit colleges arise and more importantly we've seen tuition costs for higher education at public and private institutions sky-rocket well above regular inflation.  When there is too much demand, it pushes prices higher.

Fourth, there would be no excess demand if college expense loans were not so prevalent and/or backed by the US government.  The government's interference in this space all but guarantees their will be too much demand, there will be fraud, and there will be many people hurt by the availability of money and credit to fund a college education.

As a student that paid for my undergrad and graduate studies on a cash basis via waiting tables and bartending I was able to make it through without any loans.   Given the huge rise in costs, I know that I'd probably be successful trying to repeat that feat because I have a tenacious spirit and am absolutely against having debt that would start me off in a hole.  Having said that, I am not sure I could do it as easily with the cost of tuition and expenses in today's world.

I will admit that college educations allow for professionals to earn about $20,000 more a year than those that don't attend college.  Well guess what?  They should.  But I would tender that those same kids that don't go to college or shouldn't go to college should end up in some vocational program or apprenticeship.  If you don't think that can be lucrative, just have a plumber or electrician come to your house.  My goodness, if I didn't love what I did so much I could make a great case for entering in a profession that could bill $325.00 an hour!  My attorney doesn't make that, nor do many of my physician clients!

This makes we absolutely laugh and cry at the same time.  Texas Governor Rick Perry recently proposed that the Texas Legislature attempt to find ways to make a 4 year degree cost around $10,000.  I think this is a responsible approach and a necessary one.  With the advent of virtual classrooms and electronic distribution of materials, why would it cost a student over $37,000 for a four year degree in Texas (not including room and board)? 

So what is the response from Texas Alumni Director Bill McCausland? -
"If you strive to make the University of Texas (at Austin) the No. 1 public school in the country, I don't think a dramatic increase in enrollment or reducing tuition are the steps necessary to get us to that. They seem to counter it," Bill McCausland, interim executive director of the UT Ex-Students' Association, told the American-Statesman."

Is this guy a clown or what?!  This quote doesn't highlight the rest of his statement where he goes on to say that making costs more affordable and also making virtual teaching and classes available would "lessen or cheapen" the college campus experience.  This is the garbage that kills me!  The "college experience" is fine if that is what you want to pay for, but it frankly is just a joy ride and a waste of the student's money or their parent's money.  I want to be able to provide a degree, not a keg party for my kids.  (Yes, I provided many keg parties for myself back in the day and it didn't help me achieve anything good in my life).

If you are reading this and think that I'm of two minds that I favor reducing college costs and limiting the amount of people getting access to college, you are right on track.  They are not mutually exclusive (meaning that just because tuition costs less I believe more people should come), no I actually advocate a reduction in costs and a limiting of the amount of people that do college. 

As I wrapped up undergrad it was obvious to me that I was competing with everyone in my job that had a degree.  In answer to that I immediately enrolled in grad school.  The point here is that now that everyone has a degree you must immediately go further to stand out and be special.  This reminds me of the quote from Syndrome in the Incredibles.  "When everyone is special, no one will be".  We've effectively cheapened the value of the college education where everyone can get a degree, now they are worthless.