“19.9 million students were enrolled in colleges and universities in 2013, compared to 13.5 million in 1990, 7.9 million in 1970, and 2.7 million in 1949,” according to the United States Census Bureau’s 2013 report. With the increase of enrollment naturally comes an increase of national student loan debt, increase competition in the work place and even a possible financial crisis similar to that of the subprime mortgage crisis.
It is no secret that the standard model of higher education has changed. Higher education has definitely evolved. Students, educators, and administrators will agree that the affordability of a degree is not reasonable.
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Many will argue that the degree they have earned is not worth the debt especially given the amount time, post graduation, the student spends paying for it. Others will add that the education system as a whole has lost sight of their purpose and integrity.
The desire to receive a higher education and the inability for individuals to personally finance there schooling has provided a toxic and self-serving lending cycle that is discouraging to college graduates and seen as an easy “come up” opportunity for those looking to manipulate the system for their short financial advantage; individuals and corporations alike.
“I hate this system, I feel trapped in this endless cycle of debt, payment, debt, payment, and even if I’m doing great in my courses—that’s not good enough, DeVonte Roach said.
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If I have a balance on my school account at the end of the semester, my hard work accounts for nothing, they hold your transcript hostage,” Roach adds.
“This higher education system feels like a joke most times. I find it hard to take a lot of the students I go to school with seriously. Some classmates of mine have confessed to simply attending college because of the financial aid they can receive,” Derrick F. James said.
“At my past community college and even now at my state college, students will enroll in the minimum amount of courses, take out loans that exceed the amount owed, and get a cash refund from the school, then B.S the rest of the semester. I guess they figure they have to pay it back anyway,” James said.
Do students who participate in these types of acts understand the burden they are placing on themselves and taxpayers? It is not just the students; financial institutions are taking part in this new founded higher education scheme.
Furthermore, do all college students feel this much disgust and dissatisfaction towards the higher education system? There are others who are not as jaded; educators and, of course, the Department of Education and even some current students will adamantly claim that a four year degree is invaluable.
If the higher education system can casually be summed up as a cash cow now, does that mean that the influx of students entering higher educational institutions are less likely to succeed or less apt to produce higher rate material in their studies? Are today’s college students productive members of their societies and school communities or has their aptitude declined with the incline of student admittance?
According to Dan Kennedy, associate professor and interim director at Northeastern University, “The students were good in the past and they are good now. Every year the school will say ‘these are the best students we’ve had’.” Kennedy believes that there is not a noticeable shift in student’s performance and that he does not have to water down his instruction for a different level of students.
“The only difference I’ve noticed in the time that I’ve been teaching is that the small number of unqualified applicants that were seeping through the cracks of admission in the past, they are simply not getting in anymore,” Kennedy added.
Kennedy’s statement holds true. Northeastern University’s Fall 2013 acceptance rate was 32.3% and is viewed as one of the most selective schools in the northeast, according to U.S News’ annual college and university report. The acceptance rate hasn’t skewed noticeably in Fall of 2014. Northeastern has not relaxed their standards at all, if anything they have raised them, not officially, but they are accepting students with high quality benchmarks in comparison to past years. The mean SAT score for admitted students in 2014 raised from 1400 to 1421, according to the admissions office.
Public universities and some private, like Northeastern University, have not succumbed entirely to the temptation to open their doors to just anyone who can write a decent letter of intent, get government funding and private loans. However, the same cannot be said about some of the private for-profit institutions in the New England area.
It has been known for some time that private, for-profit institutions are essentially a college set up by stockholders and investors and ran by companies. Degrees from for-profit institutions have also been known to be more expensive than a standard bachelors degree and even valued less in most cases. They have been in the news more than ever lately and scrutinized for their foul practices.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling, NACAC, reports that: “Investigations by the federal government, media, and States Attorneys General have revealed countless instances of unscrupulous for-profit colleges (particularly those that are run by large, publicly-traded companies), engaging in deceptive, aggressive and manipulative tactics to enroll as many students as possible, without regard for their potential for success or ability to afford tuition, in an effort to maximize profits.”
In other words, these for-profit schools are not concerned with the benchmarks of the student they are admitting. Their number one objective is acceptance numbers, which equate to cash in the bank for their investors, regardless of the student’s ability to afford the schooling. ITT Educational Services Inc. is one particular entity that is under the scope and with good reason. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently sued the company for abusing the billions of government dollars extracted from students—in most cases by students who were pressured to take out loans.
Not every college student is being taken advantage of by these type of crooked schools, however, many prospective college student have become turned off by for-profit schools and hyper paranoid about every dime they are borrowing to finance their education. For-profit schools, within the last decade, have certainly gave the pursuit of a higher education a poor name. More than a handful of current graduate students confess that if they could be successful and financially stable without a college degree—they would not be in school.
There will always be drawbacks in pursuing a higher degree. Higher education has almost become synonymous, this day and age, with debt. However, perhaps it is worth it. Perhaps, it is not simply about the status or one expensive piece of paper but also the experience—the ride.
It is in popular belief that a college education means more employment options and that all college graduates will make more money. However, according to the Department of Labor in 2012, 1 in 3 college graduates had a job that required a high school diploma or less.
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In supporting that finding the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 44% of recent graduates were underemployed in 2012. Are these numbers associated with the college graduates inability to showcase their skill, are they inadequate for the position, or is it the competition—now that the bachelor degree’s value is diluted?
That can be hard to hear, diluted degrees and ill-equipped college graduates. However, that is the reality.
Eric Gorski, of the Huffington Post, wrote specifically on the issue of underprepared college graduates. In his research, he found that on a study of 2,300 undergraduates, “…45% of students show no significant improvements in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.” That is a serious issue and reflects the larger issue of the United States Higher Education system and its’ priorities, previously stated.
Lindsay McCluskey, recent graduate of University of Massachusetts Amherst, supports Gorski’s findings. McCluskey explains, “There is less personal attention in the classroom, fewer tenure-track positions, and more classes are being taught by teaching assistants and in some cases undergraduate students, obviously, that has an impact on our learning and the experience we get in college.” “We are viewed as consumers instead of students.”
Will Moore, Northeastern University graduate student, has a similar sentiment, “I think the US should fundamentally rethink and retool its approach to higher ed.” “…We should be emulating nations like Norway, where higher education is free for all students. The result is that their populace is highly educated and, being unburdened by debt, possesses economic agency, which benefits the country as a whole. Contrast that with the system in place in the US, in which the increasing costs associated with higher education can be a barrier to education.”
It is clear, most students are not pleased with their experiences and most employees are not impressed with the output of graduates from the U.S. Higher Education system. All of these statistics don’t account for everyone and the dissatisfied students will admit to their college experiences being financially painful but socially rewarding, as well as, beneficial for their interpersonal skills and overall growth.
College provides a platform to network with peers with similar and dissimilar interests and fields. Harvard Business School estimated that 65% to 85% of employment acquired by their alumni was by networking within social groups, clubs, teams, job fairs, and even remaining connected to their internship or co-op affiliates.
80% of college’s graduates have completed some type of internship of co-op before entering the job market. 90% of students attending Northeastern University will have completed some form of internship before completing their undergraduate studies. It is evident that college is no easy feat, however, with the invaluable experiences students are destine to experience—perhaps the financial weight is worth it.
Even after comparing data until your eyes bleed, it can be said that the value of the degree depends on the individual not the degree alone. If prospective college students are equipped with the pertinent information to make an informed decision on their higher education they would be just fine—but that is an ideal scenario and most students or returning students are not.
The U.S Higher Education System’s faults and neglect are becoming more noticeable and apparent. At this point, if a degree or the college experience is a vital key to your personal growth or careers goals—it’s up to you to define it’s worth. It is also up to you, the student, to eek out as much worth from it—regardless of its cost and commitment.