... and why we should still think of new ways to educate young adults
College skeptics are whipping out the B-word. Many students are bulking up on loans and coming up empty on the job market while schools keep hiking tuition. Pretty soon, critics say, the bubble has to burst.
My former colleague Megan McArdle lays out a thoughtful version of that argument in the most recent issue of Newsweek. She's correct that there are a lot of people right now who aren't benefiting much from their education. But in spite of the country's growing load of education debt and the rough job market for recent grads, most students who make it through with a diploma are getting their money's worth. The problem isn't that higher ed has turned into a bubble that's ready to deflate as the market sours on its prospects; it's that the system might be working just well enough to continue business as usual without some much needed changes.
Tuition isn't soaring like you've heard
It's conventional wisdom by now that college tuition costs are rising and taking a greater and greater bite out of stagnant middle class incomes. How bad is it? Here's McArdle:
The price of a McDonald's hamburger has risen from 85 cents in 1995 to about a dollar today. The average price of all goods and services has risen about 50 percent. But the price of a college education has nearly doubled in that time.
Talking about "the price of a college education" is like talking about "the price of a car." Just as it's not so useful to discuss the cost of a BMW Z4 and a Ford Focus in the same breath, it's hard to put Harvard and Iowa State in the same discussion about tuition, because they operate on very different economic rules. Beyond that, your average undergrad probably won't pay the full sticker price for a degree. Need-based grants and scholarships play a big role in determining the final "net price" each student has to lay out for a year of school.