The “ol’ college try” … Not good enough anymore?

The questionable college degree ... along with crushing student debt.I’ve blogged before about the increasing concerns many people have regarding the quality of college education in America. Now, several new data points should make every parent of college-age kids – or children who will be ready for college soon – take additional notice.

The first interesting news tidbit is that total student debt, which surpassed the country’s credit card debt for the first time in August 2010, now tops $1 trillion. Compare that to student debt being only around $200 billion as late as 2000.

So we’re talking an increase of ~400% in a little over a decade, which is miles more than the inflation rate over this period. Average debt now stands at almost $23,000 per student, which is a spike of ~8% over the past year alone.

And just what are students getting for all the money they’re spending (or borrowing) for their higher education? If you want to know the ugly truth, check out the recently published book Academically Adrift by sociologists Josipa Roksa and Richard Arum [ISBN-13: 978-0226028569 … also available in a Kindle edition].

Based on the information presented in this book, some grads might wish to haul their colleges up on charges of educational malpractice. Full-time instructional faculty has declined from 78% of college teachers in 1970 to only around 50% today.

Roksa and Arum also report that college faculty members spend, on average, just 11 hours per week on instructional preparation and delivery … the rest of their time is spent on research and a slew of administrative activities.

And how about the “quality” of the education that’s being delivered? If we wish to view that in terms of the amount of time students are spending on their studies, the stats aren’t trending in the right direction. The book claims that whereas the typical college student in the early 1960s devoted an average of 40 hours each week to academic work, today’s students now spend only about 27 hours per week on studies. So in what way is the substantial extra money being extracted from students being used to delier a better quality product?

Here’s the next shocker: ~85% of college graduates are moving back home following graduation. This information comes from a 2011 field survey conducted by Philadelphia-based market research firm Twentysomething, Inc. Compared to the firm’s prior surveys, that represents a spike of nearly 20 percentage points in only five years.

Of course, we all know the economy has been a major problem over the past few years, with jobs hard to come by even for seasoned workers. But to learn that fewer than one in six college students are moving out on their own following college graduation means that precious few grads are coming out of school with the ability to land jobs that can sustain an independent lifestyle — however modest.

With stats as dismal as these, is it any wonder why some people are seeking an alternative paradigm for higher education other than the “four years away from home” model? Enrollment figures at America’s community colleges have been skyrocketing. Online education is also booming, despite lingering concerns about learning standards and accreditation.

Some economists such as Richard Vedder are suggesting making radical reforms in the way that financial aid is provided – and to whom – while other observers are pushing for more recognition of learning credentials that take us beyond a BS or BA degree.

Many of these ideas strike at the very heart of what we’ve always been conditioned to believe about a four-year college education as the gateway to a better life. But with today’s reality being so far removed from the theory (fantasy?) … some out-of-the-box ideas and approaches are exactly what are needed now.

2 thoughts on “The “ol’ college try” … Not good enough anymore?

  1. One thing’s for sure: it’s hard to justify paying skyrocketing university tuition for what amounts to trade school, especially when 1) there are few if any jobs available after graduation, and 2) the instruction, in many instances, doesn’t really prepare you for your chosen trade.
    But, hey, according to the College Board there’s at least one upside to earning a college degree: college graduates ages 25 to 44 are 14 percent less likely to be obese than high school grads!
    I wonder what that’s worth?

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