Cutting Some Slack: The “College Bubble” Explained

huThere are several “inconvenient truths” contained among the details of a recently released synopsis of college education and work trends, courtesy of the Heritage Foundation. Let’s check them off one-by-one.

The Cost of College

This truth is likely known to nearly everyone  who has children: education at four-year educational institutions isn’t cheap.  Here are the average annual prices for higher education in the United States for the current school year (includes tuition, fees, housing and meals):

  • 4-year public universities (in-state students): ~$19,550
  • 4-year public universities (out-of-state students): ~$34,000
  • 4-year private colleges and universities: ~$43,900

These costs have been rising fairly steadily for years now, seemingly without regard to the overall economic climate. But the negative impact on students has been muted somewhat by the copious availability of student loans — at least in the short term until the schedule kicks in.

The other important mitigating factor is the increased availability of community college education covering the first two years of higher education at a fraction of the cost of four-year institutions.  Less attractive are “for-profit” institutions, some of which have come under intense scrutiny and negative publicity concerning the effectiveness of their programs and how well students do with the degrees they earn from them.

Time Devoted to Education Activities

What may be less understood is the degree to which “full-time college” is actually a part-time endeavor for many students.

According to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over the past decade, the average full-time college student spends fewer than three hours per day on all education-related activities (just over one hour in class and a little over 1.5 hours devoted to homework and research).

It adds up to around 19 hours per week in total.

In essence, full-time college students are devoting 10 fewer hours per week on educational-related activities compared to what full-time high school students are doing.

Lest this discrepancy seem too shocking, this is this mitigating aspect:  When comparing high-schoolers and full-time college students, the difference between educationally oriented time spent is counterbalanced by the time spent working.

More to the point, for full-time college students, employment takes up ~16 hours per week whereas with full-time high school students, the average time working is only about 4 hours.

Full-Time Students vs. Full-Time Workers

Here’s where things get quite interesting and where the whole idea of the “college bubble” comes into broad relief. It turns out that full-time college students spend far less combined time on education and work compared to their counterparts who are full-time workers.

Here are the BLS stats:  Full-time employees work an average of 42 hours per week, whereas for full-time college students, the combined time spent on education and working adds up to fewer than 35 hours per week.

This graph from the Heritage Foundation report illustrates what’s happening:


Interestingly, the graph insinuates that full-time college students have it easier than many others in society:

  • On average, 19-year-olds are spending significantly fewer hours in the week on education and work compared to 17-year-olds.
  • It isn’t until age 59+ that people are spending less time on education and work than the typical 19-year-old.

No doubt, some social scientists will take these data as the jumping off spot for a debate about whether a generation of “softies” is being created – people who will struggle in the rigors of the real world once they’re out of the college bubble.

Exacerbating the problem in the eyes of some, student loan default rates aren’t exactly low, and talk by some politicians about forgiving student loan debt is a bit of a lightning rod as well.  The Heritage Foundation goes so far as to claim that loan forgiveness programs are leaving taxpayers on the hook for “generous leisure hours,” since ~93% of all student loans are originated and managed by the federal government.

What do you think? The BLS stats don’t lie … but are the Heritage Foundation’s conclusions off-target?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Air, Water, Food … Internet

Fundamental importance of the InternetIs the Internet today as important to people as the very air they breathe? That’s what the results of a survey of ~2,800 college students and young professionals seem to be telling us.

Market research firm InsightExpress fielded the survey for Cisco Systems, a consumer electronics, networking, voice and communications technology/services company.

The research effort collected responses from the USA and 13 other countries in the developed world plus emerging powerhouse economies (Australia, Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, India, China, Japan, Brazil and Mexico).

What did the survey discover? More than half of the respondents said they couldn’t live without the Internet – it’s that vital to their lives.

In fact, for many the Internet is more important than dating, partying, and wheels.

Intriguing findings from the survey include:

 ~55% of college students and ~62% of young professionals believe that the Internet is such an integral part of their lives, they could not live without it.

 If forced to make a choice between access to the Internet and access to a car, ~64% of the respondents would choose having the Internet connection.

 “Virtual” relationships are gaining on face-to-face interaction. More than one quarter of the college respondents reported that staying updated on Facebook is more important to them than partying, dating, listening to music, or visiting with friends.

 Smartphones are on the cusp of eclipsing desktop computers as the most prevalent means of connecting with this segment of society … which then makes it not much of a stretch to learn that ~60% of these same young professionals feel that “having an office” is unnecessary for being competitive.

And here’s another thing: These respondents are used to constant interruptions. ~80% report being interrupted by instant messaging and social media updates at least once per hour … and over 30% reported having five or more such interruptions hourly.

To me, this sounds more like disruption than interruption.

Marie Hattar, Cisco Systems’ marketing vice president, concludes that the survey findings “should make businesses re-examine how they need to evolve in order to attract talent and shape their business models.”

She also noted that “CIOs need to plan and scale their networks now to address the security and mobility demands that the next generation workforce will put on their infrastructure … in conjunction with a proper assessment of corporate policies.”

As the survey makes clear, at the rate things are evolving, the office environment will look and feel nothing like it did just a few short years ago. And it may be the biggest single transformation in the business world we’ve yet seen.