I am the Director of the Philosophy Program at a one of the many little colleges recently retro-fitted to become a university in Western Pennsylvania. After 18 years of steadily teaching at a reputable little college, with the magic of our new university stature I suddenly found myself applying for, and receiving, tenure. My job and income are now secure. Gee, what an improvement for student-learning outcomes. So let me put my new tenure to use and see if it works.
It is clear to me that post-secondary (College and University) undergraduate education both costs too much and the general quality is far from as good as it should be in light of the extortionate price students and their parents are forced to pay. According to the Pew Foundation funded American Institutes for Research 2006 study, “The National Survey of America’s College Students,” one half of four-year college graduates will not be able to articulate what I have so far written, much less grasp the basic argument of any article written in the Chronicle of Higher Education or, for that matter, any speech critical of post-secondary education delivered by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings herself. This means the majority of American college graduates are unable to figure out exactly how they, and their families, may have been gouged by their Alma Maters.
According to the Study:
• More than 75 percent of students at 2-year colleges and more than 50 percent of students at 4-year colleges do not score at the proficient level of literacy. This means that they lack the skills to perform complex literacy tasks, such as comparing credit card offers with different interest rates or summarizing the arguments of newspaper editorials.
• Students in 2- and 4-year colleges have the greatest difficulty with quantitative literacy: approximately 30 percent of students in 2-year institutions and nearly 20 percent of students in 4-year institutions have only Basic quantitative literacy. Basic skills are those necessary to compare ticket prices or calculate the cost of a sandwich and a salad from a menu.
If this study is accurate, and anecdotal evidence of graduating seniors certainly suggests it is, there is no just reason for any student to pay $100,000 (more than the cost of most homes in Western PA) for a four-year degree. Most disturbing, however, is the implication when looking at the power of compound interest: If the $100,000 spent on college were invested in a mutual fund instead, it would be worth vastly more than the $1million dollar increase in lifetime earning power a college education is alleged to be worth. If the money spent on a college education were invested in TIAA-CREF, where university employees invest their own retirement funds, by the time the student reached the age of retirement in 40 years that $100,000, at 10% per year, would be worth $4,525,925.56 — in 50 years $11,739,085.29. Instead, what now happens is parents simply lose a hefty portion of their own retirement while footing the bill for their kids’ vastly over-priced college degrees. In a word, despite college propaganda to the contrary, at current rates, a four year degree at a typical college or university dramatically decreases a family’s overall lifetime wealth rather than increasing it.