Colleges, Again

Frank Mussano and Robert Iosue opened their op-ed in The Wall Street Journal with this claim:

College tuition rates are ridiculously out of hand.

They’re right, too. College costs, and not just their tuition costs, are way out of whack with the value received. One evidence of that (eliding interest costs) is the extreme difficulty too many college graduates have paying back their student loans out the salaries their degrees get them.

They continued:

[T]uition has surged more than 1,000%, while the consumer-price index has risen only 240%. The percentage of annual household income required to pay the average private four-year tuition reached 36% in 2010, up from 16% in 1970.

They spent much of their piece describing where a college’s money goes, a number of a college’s cost drivers, and the way in which much of the money is outright misallocated, and they’re not far wrong.

Mussano and Iosue then suggested that one way of getting costs back under control would be to do a business model-type financial audit of the schools.

However, they missed one important driver of cost: demand. I’ve written before about the lack of any universal need for a college education.

We as a society need to de-stigmatize the lack of a four-year degree. College isn’t for everyone. Not everyone is cut out for college, especially right out of high school; colleges don’t always teach what the student wants, or needs, on a practical level; and where they do, they’re not cost competitive with other sources of that knowledge and training.

Trade schools, office skills training, and the practical, hands-on here’s-how-you-do-this-stuff-to-make-a-living-at-it training available at junior colleges (two-year colleges that are nearly always cheaper than two years at a four-year college) are excellent places to learn to earn a living.

The trades are critical skills, too. Who can build a house or an office building—or live or work in one—without a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter? Who can build a road or an internet or telephone network without heavy equipment operators, electricians, someone who understands networks at the construction level?

Skills like these don’t need a four-year degree, especially in women’s studies, or anthropology, or English, or even STEM. Yet without those skills, our country would come to a screeching halt. There’s a crying need for STEM graduates, even for English and anthro majors. But there’s a bawling need for the trades. We can’t use the STEMs or English and anthro types without them.

Oh, and demand: with the commensurately lowered demand for college, watch tuition and other college costs come down.

2 thoughts on “Colleges, Again

  1. Thank you, you are quite right, college is not for everyone. As retired president of York College, I have emphasized that point many times. Also, authors Iosue and Mussano in their recent book: College Tuition: Four Decades of Financial Deception, which provide the excerpts to which you allude, indirectly say that.

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