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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

 
New study shows college is a bad financial bet for many

by David Atkins

It's a standard trope among conservatives and economic neoliberals: globalization, they say, has created a knowledge economy in which only the well-educated will thrive. Everyone, they say, needs to go to college to meet the jobs that are out there. It's not the economy that is broken, but Americans who are undereducated, and if young people and their parents need to privatize education and take on debt to make it happen, that's a good investment.

Not so fast, it seems:

College can be a bad financial investment, and a fair number of people actually should not go to college, according to a new study.

Higher education remains a smart financial choice for most people, especially those who attend selective colleges and get degrees in financially promising fields, such as science and technology, according to the analysis by the Brookings Center on Children and Families.

But college may not pay off for students pursuing majors in low-paying fields, such as the arts, or going to lower-tier schools. That’s hammered home for students with large student loans, and especially true for those who take on debt but drop out of school and never get a degree, the study found.

One of the study’s more startling statistics is that 170 of the 853 schools studied -- or an astounding one in five colleges – had a negative return on investment.

“By telling all young people that they should go to college no matter what, we are actually doing them a disservice,” Stephanie Owen and Isabel Sawhill write in “Should Everyone Go to College?”

The study seems likely to intensify the heated debate over the financial merits of college, especially when heavy students loans are involved.

Many studies lately have reinforced the notion that college is a good financial bet and, indeed, the age-old wisdom holds for top schools.

Students attending the “most selective” colleges have a “lifetime earnings premium” exceeding $620,000, the study says. The premium for those at “minimally selective” schools is only one-third as much.

What you study and the career you go into also matter. Sometimes, the study found, graduates of unimpressive schools, or those who majored in low-paying fields, earned less than people with only a high school education.

The lifetime earnings of an education or arts major working in the services sector are lower than that of a high school graduate, the study points out.
So let's narrow it down. It's not just that you need a college education. You're not supposed to study liberal arts--which, after all, formed the core of what Western society used to call "education" for hundreds of years and is essential to the development of an informed, reasoned electorate. You also have to go to the "right" college.

So what our leaders are saying is that only those who study engineering and computer science at top universities need apply for decent jobs in the new economy. And that's supposed to be OK.

It's not OK. It's not OK to tell 70-80% of the American public that they'll never have a decent job or working conditions by default, since they didn't study the right subjects at the right institutions of higher learning. Anyone who says that should be called out for perpetuating and enabling a broken economic system that does not serve the public interest.


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