By Lauren Kuzara
“There’s a growing education bubble, with rising tuition and students taking out loans they might not be able to pay back. . .at some point. . .it’s going to pop (Jacobs, 2015),” warned Mark Cuban a wealthy entrepreneur in 2015. Two year later, the situation is not looking any better.
Warnings like these need to be paid attention to because the effects of allowing this “bubble” to burst are going to alter the entire economy.
Prior to taking the course Foundations & Emerging Trend in Higher Education at Post University, I was aware that the cost of education was ever-increasing, and that the value of the education was often not equal to its cost. I have counseled my own children to go into trades, and not to jump straight from high school into a college education until they were sure they needed a college degree for the career path they had chosen. Before deciding to pursue my master’s degree, I thought about the value my master’s degree would have on my earning potential and decided it was a sound investment. The amount I will be paying off each month on my student loan will be less than the amount my earning potential increases. How do we stop the looming student loan bubble?
Professor Daniel Lin has an interesting answer: Reduce the government subsidies, meaning reduce the availability of student loans (Learnliberty, 2013). At first this suggestion seems almost cruel. After all, without access to student loans, less citizens would be able to attend college. But that is exactly what Prof. Lin wants to happen. His belief is that the rising cost of education is a simple supply and demand problem, so by allowing less people to be able to afford a college education the demand is decreased, and the cost in turn will also decrease (Learnliberty, 2013).
If we allow this to happen, will those at the lower end of the income spectrum be forever stuck, unable to get the education they need to advance economically? Actually, this is not what would happen. “Seven of the ten fastest growing jobs in the next decade will be based on on-the-job training rather than higher education (Encounterbooks, 2012).” Dr. Lin also notes that in other countries there is a robust program of apprenticeship and vocational training (Learnliberty, 2013).
The economist Dusty Wunderlich would agree. Wunderlich points out, “in 2020 there will be 19 million more college graduates but only 7 million new jobs requiring a college degree (TEDx Talks, 2016). Clearly, we are over saturating the market with college graduates. People are going into debt for years and end up with a job that does not require a college degree. Wunderlich notes that those who go to college and take on debt often cannot afford to buy a house or a car, get married, or save for the own children’s college education (TEDx Talks, 2016). This mean that our societies belief that a college education is the best path to economic stability is just not true anymore.
Wunderlich suggests four solutions to break the bubble or overcome “Education Arbitrage (TEDx Talks, 2016)” as he calls it. First, he would like to see student loans being granted based on the potential for earning the education commands. This would prevent students from being able to take out large student loans for training towards a career that will not afford for them to pay them back. This idea is similar to Prof. Lin’s: reduce demand and the cost will go down. Second, Wunderlich suggests institutes of higher education need to focus on placement rate and earning potential rather than on admission rates or even graduation rates to ensure the value of their degree is equal to their tuition. Third, it is imperative that we train our future college students to make smart choices about their education and career path. We must break the idea that college is for everyone and the only path to economic success. It’s important that, as a society, we accept it is a valid decision not to go to college and instead pursue vocational training. Lastly, Wunderlich remarks that employers need to do better screening of potential employees rather than on just requiring a degree. For many jobs a college degree is asked for by the employer as a way of confirming a basic level of competence; however, there is no knowledge one would gain from college that is actually required for the position. If instead these employers put more time into properly interviewing and screening their potential employees, requiring a degree would be unnecessary. (TEDx Talks, 2016).
I believe Wonderlich has set out a smart solution, but I worry that one of the hardest parts of his plan is to retrain people to believe that a college education is not the only right path to economic success. Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, has made it a personal crusade to reeducate people about the value of working in a vocation job. He discusses a poster his guidance counselor hung in his office back in the 1970s with the quote, “Work smart, not hard.” The poster showed a photo on one side of a happy graduate and on the other side a downtrodden factory worker. Rowe is working to change this image with a new one of his own he has captioned, “Work smart and hard.” In his image, the graduate is looking lost and downtrodden and the factory worker is holding a computer and looking happy and successful (ReasonTV, 2013).
Rowe acknowledges that what parents want for their children is a good and successful life, a future better than their own. It seems to parents that college is the easy answer to attaining that goal. However, looking at the reality of how many students are attempting to get a college degree, versus how many are successfully graduating and getting a high paying job proves that college is not the answer. This means society must acknowledge that there are other, and perhaps better, paths to creating success. (ReasonTV, 2013).
Lauren Kuzara has been Ridley-Lowell’s Danbury Campus Director overseeing Allied Health, Construction and Beauty Trade programs including Medical Assisting, Massage Therapy, Esthetics/Skin Care, Electrical Systems Technician, & Phlebotomy since 2016. She oversees Ridley’s accreditation compliance, keeping the network of schools delivering top educational standards. She has been an advocate for career education for years, having worked as staff and faculty for other vocational schools in Connecticut. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org