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By John Aman

Is college worth it? More and more recent graduates – and their parents – are asking that question as they send out resumes, wait tables, and live at home – all while paying off hefty student loans.

It’s long been believed that a college degree is a ticket to secure, financially rewarding employment. Back in 1974, Jacob Mincer’s Schooling, Experience and Earnings came up with what is called “the rate of return to education,” estimated by researchers at 6-10 percent. Every year of additional education is said to pad annual salary by 6 to 10 percent.

Try telling that to the bartenders across America with high-priced bachelor’s degrees.

“There are 80,000 bartenders in the United States with bachelor’s degrees,” says Richard Vedder, author of “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much.” He told consumer columnist John Stossel that 17 percent of baggage porters and bellhops, and 15 percent of tax and limo drivers have bachelor’s degrees.

Michael Bledsoe earned a creative writing degree in 2010 but wound up working for a bit over minimum wage at a Seattle coffee house, according to an Associated Press report.

“I don’t even know what I’m looking for,” he told the AP. Employers noted his lack of experience and questioned the value of his major. “There is not much out there, it seems.”

The Federal Reserve reports that 44 percent of recent college grads are underemployed, languishing in jobs they could have stepped into with a high school diploma.

While graduates in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as well as health care and accounting tend to do well, the value of a college degree overall is down sharply.

Nowadays, four years of college is more likely to leave students deeply in debt than well-educated with marketable job skills. One third of recent college grads take jobs that don’t require a college degree. Just 16 percent of college graduates were “very prepared for the workforce” according to a 2011 survey of one thousand hiring managers.

And this is not a new phenomenon. In 2000, 41 percent of college grads were underemployed or jobless.

But the idea persists that everyone should go to college. Despite good alternatives, the faddish and nonsensical nature of much higher education, and, most of all, the dismal return on investment, college enrollment and student debt are soaring.

  • College enrollment jumped 25 percent from 14.7 million in 2004 to 18.5 million in 2012.
  • Total student loan debt is now a staggering $1.1 trillion, up 25 percent since 2010 and more than four times its 2003 level of $241 billion. The total college student loan balance now exceeds U.S. credit card debt.
  • Two-thirds of graduates leave school burdened with an average of $26,600 in student loans

Despite all this, tuition is up 27 percent over the last five years at public colleges and universities. And that’s not a blip but a long-term trend. A Bloomberg analysis found that tuition and fees have exploded by 1,120 percent since 1978, four times faster than the growth in the consumer price index. The average one-year cost at public college for tuition, fees, and room and board is now $17,860. The cost at private four-year schools is $39,518.

The average starting salary for students earning bachelor’s degrees in 2013 is $45,000. The high is $66,000 for engineering students while humanities and social science majors bottom out with average starting salaries of $37,000 – if they find work.

There is a better way.

One option is not to attend college. That worked out okay for Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Aaron Clarey gives students useful and entertaining advice in his book, Worthless: The Young Person’s Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major. He lists college degrees “that cost you roughly $30,000 in tuition, their much cheaper replacements, and the savings you’d realize:”

For example, instead of foreign languages, replace it with language software, and save $29,271. Instead of philosophy, replace it by reading Socrates and save $39.980. Replace women’s studies with watching daytime TV and save $30,000. Replace journalism with starting a blog and save $30,000.

Another option is to attend a two-year college. Data posted on collegemeasures.org for Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Colorado and Texas shows that inexpensive community colleges compare favorably to high-priced private and state four-year colleges. Among the findings:

  • Two-year graduates in health professions from Dyersburg State Community College in Tennessee earn an average of $5,200 more their first year out of school than students who take four years to earn a health professions degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
  • Students with technical associate degrees in Texas have median first-year earnings of more than $50,000, which is $11,000 more than bachelor’s degree program graduates in Texas.
  • Those who graduate from high-paying certificate programs in Texas such as health care and construction enjoy median first year wages above $70,000, which is $30,000 more than the median bachelor’s degree salary in Texas.
  • The technical and career-oriented Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) programs in Colorado prepare students with skills wanted by the labor market. Students with AAS degrees take home nearly $7,000 more on average one year after graduation than bachelor’s degree students across the state of Colorado.

Another reason to think long and hard before taking four years and shelling out thousands to earn a bachelor’s degree is what William J. Bennett, co-author of “Is College Worth It?,” call the “nonsense on stilts” found in the humanities and social science departments at many schools.

Sex has supplanted Shakespeare as a dominant element of the English Department curriculum of many schools where professors fail to note Freud’s famous dictum about cigars and find sexual metaphors in almost anything. Many classes are devoted to “gay” and lesbian concerns, including:

  • UCLA: M101A – Lesbian and Gay Literature before Stonewall; M101B – Lesbian and Gay Literature after Stonewall
  • California State University at Northridge: Erotic Literature, Male Sexuality, Gay Literature, and Lesbian Literature and Poetry
  • University of Arkansas: Literature and Eros
  • Dartmouth College: Topics in Literary and Cultural Theory: Feminist Theories, Queer Theories
  • University of Chicago: Problems in Gender Studies
  • Williams College: Queer Literatures in English: An Introduction

Plus, with the possible exception of engineering and math departments, college today is an incubator for virulent liberalism. Radio host and columnist Dennis Prager supplies a few of the “lessons” given to students in exchange for the $20,000 to $50,000 (or more) they or their parents will pay. These articles of liberal faith taught in higher education include:

  • The United States is no better than any other country, and in many areas, it’s worse than many. On the world stage, America is an imperialist country, and domestically, it mistreats its minorities and neglects its poor while discriminating against non-whites.
  • There is no better and no worse in literature and the arts. The reason universities in the past taught Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Bach rather than, let’s say, Guatemalan poets, Sri Lankan musicians and Native American storytellers, was “Eurocentrism.”
  • God is at best a nonissue, and at worst a foolish and dangerous belief.
  • Christianity is largely a history of inquisitions, crusades, oppression and anti-intellectualism. Islam, on the other hand, is “a religion of peace.” Therefore, criticism of Christianity is enlightened, while criticism of Islam is Islamophobia.
  • Israel is a racist state, morally no different from apartheid South Africa.

And so on.

Bennett, a former Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, argues that college is not for everyone.

“Better high schools, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs should take the place of overpriced and underperforming colleges and universities,” he writes in “Is College Worth It?”

The Internet promises to disrupt the bricks-and-mortar education cartel and extend the real benefits of higher educations to millions. Massive open online classes, or MOOCS made their debut in fall 2011 and make courses taught at elite schools like Stanford available for free at sites such as Udacity and Coursera, the latter of which now has three million users. Transparent, market driven, and available to the masses, online learning is bringing competition and efficiency back into higher education.

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