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OPINION: Evaluation of a college education: Is it just ‘biz,’ or might Yoda say ‘more than dollars & sense it is’

September 29, 2014 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg, right, is greeted by Columbia University Provost and professor John Coatsworth on Thursday.
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A New York Post editorial recently asked, “Is College Worth It?” Looking at the tuition numbers in relation to job opportunities post-degree, the editorial looks askance at the investment, while also noting that “[o]nly 44 percent of Americans now say getting a college education is ‘very important.’ That’s down from 75 percent in the same annual poll just four years ago.”

“For some people in some areas,” the Post notes, the price of their college education rivals that of their homes….That’s a big life purchase.” What these people don’t yet have from colleges and universities, the Post adds, is the vital information [on the job market] that would help tell them what a degree is worth before they spend several hundred thousand dollars getting it.

“If you’re a Columbia grad with a computer-science degree,” the Post suggests, “you can probably write your own ticket. But if you’ve spent six years and gone into debt for a degree in hospitality, you probably won’t get the return on investment that would make it worthwhile.” Needed, for example, is information about which majors offer the most job opportunities, which majors pay off least and the job-success rates for grads.

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The Post concludes, “Academia hasn’t been good at supplying these answers. But if it doesn’t start, some schools may soon be out of business.”

We might add a few thoughts. In the spectrum of institutions offering undergraduate degrees, upper-end schools offer life-long affiliations and experiences that would be hard to measure monetarily.

Many students find college not only fails to direct them to a career, but leaves them somewhat “quest-ridden.” And yet they may feel they have gained from the broadening experience.

That’s an expensive lesson. The issue of who pays for that lesson is where the wicket gets sticky.  If the government is going to subsidize education, focus on curriculum and gainful employment should be part of the equation and the requirement.  Nothing can stop a bright student from getting scholarships for the most liberal of arts degrees. Nothing can stop a well-heeled family from letting their child seek directionless enlightenment and make friends along the way.

But the Post is right about the broadest spectrum students seeking post-high school education.  When tuition becomes as serious an investment for a family as their home is, accountability for the final product is essential. Learning is fun, but the price is not incalculable.


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