Your college degree: choose wisely

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Among my favorite radio talk shows is Connections, hosted by Evan Dawson. I am an occasional caller to the show for reasons I can’t identify… hubris, celebrity worship, my 15 minutes of fame… I don’t know.

A recent show featured a discussion about the prospective government support of college tuitions. It’s a highly politicized topic; however, one of the reasons I like Connections is that Dawson somehow manages to cut through the usual partisan dialog and, despite an obvious bias, does so dispassionately.

In a now defunct blog, I once asserted that universities are in a bubble and that the bubble must burst. (When Will the University Bubble Burst?) So, naturally, I felt compelled to call in.

Evan Dawson: John from Fairport is on the line. Go ahead.

Me: Thanks for having me on again, Evan. Here’s my two part question: Would it be fair to say that universities are in a bubble fueled by a bottomless pit of taxpayer dollars funneled through the student loan system and, if that’s true, why would we ask taxpayers to fund a college tuition plan?

ED: Stay on the line, John, while we work through that.

Dawson’s guest panel included Daan Braveman, president of Nazareth College and Anne Kress, Ph.D., president of Monroe Community College (MCC). Braveman responded that the media consistently reports the rise in college tuitions based on the published rates. The increase in what students actually pay has only increased at an annual rate of 1.17%.

Dawson drove the point home destroying my bubble argument in the process. I am not very glib. Nor, had I researched the topic and prepared for it as Dawson obviously had. I like to think things over, consider and reconsider my positions.

My 15-minutes of fame were up!

After I was off the line, Dr. Kress pointed out that the average student loan debt is $29,000, about the cost of a new car. Not very expensive was the implication.

Wait a minute! Can I have a do-over? I want my 15 minutes back!

If college is so affordable and the cost is NOT rising faster than inflation, why do we need to help kids finance their education?

If I had my 15 minutes back, I would renew the bubble question this way.

UWDEBT02G1Pew Research revealing that the Millennial Generation will be the best educated in our history is juxtaposed with headlines proclaiming that many of today’s college grads are either unemployed or underemployed.

Is it possible that colleges are producing more grads than can be absorbed by the economy? Isn’t that another way to define a bubble?

In keeping with Dawson’s non-partisan approach, the panel’s consensus seemed to favor a plan that I’ve not heard from any political candidate: a means-tested voucher system that would be extended to the academically qualified.

Hmmm… I could get behind that. Now, let’s have a debate about how to pay for it.

While we’re hashing this out (and, for that matter, after we’ve hashed it out), I would advise any matriculating college student to choose wisely. A well-educated populace is to the benefit of our society. But, don’t forget that you’ll need to make a living for yourself once you’ve graduated.

Don’t borrow money you can’t pay back.

 

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