Here more U.S. students are enrolled than ever before, yet the value of a college education is under attack. As the perfect storm seems to be forming on the horizon, as soaring costs of education is driving student debt to record levels much as rising warm air feeds a tornado. Where in the past, this “investment” typically paid off with what was seen as a “good” paying job allowing for repayment and betterment in life generally. However with shrinking job prospects, economic sluggishness and global currency crises are leading many critics to increasingly challenge whether college remains a worthwhile investment.
One of these people voicing their concern publicly is is PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who proposes that higher education is becoming a “dangerous bubble”. As Thiel, who interestingly enough sports educational credentials which include a bachelor’s and law degrees from the prestigious Stanford University, is putting some money where his mouth is by ponying up $100,000 in a two-year fellowships for 20 promising teenage entrepreneurs to develop their business ideas instead of attending college. As with any bubbles, college is “characterized by runaway costs where people are paying more and more for something whose quality hasn’t gone up,” Thiel challenged during an October 12 debate in Chicago sponsored by the website Intelligence Squared U.S.
Does Thiel have a point in what he is saying is the big question as look at what a college provides today to the cost verses the past and is there a return of investment? Its here that college advocates attempt to counter with the argument that higher education has never been more vital “as employers demand the advanced schooling and training that are required of workers in a global, technologically oriented economy”. Here folks such as Vivek Wadhwa who holds research positions at Duke University, Harvard Law School and the University of California at Berkeley say “China and India are educating,” and “If we’re going to dumb down America at the same time the world is getting smarter, we’ll become a Third World country,” notes Wadhwa.
While the point is valid and few people (other then Thiel) will dispute the economic value of at least some post-high school education, however what is being questioned is who is best served by a four-year college experience along with what are viable alternatives? As for any system to be efficient it should provide a broad set of opportunities. Here the educational system is no different as what we are faced with is a rapidly changing workplace which are faced with changes driven from ceaseless automation coupled with the exportation of jobs off-shore make for challenges not seen before. In short the times have changed, yet the old school (pardon the pun) have not changed.
As the price of education has without question been climbing at a breakneck pace as the tuition and fees at U.S. colleges and universities skyrocket some 439% in current figures (unadjusted for inflation) dollars from 1982 to 2007. For comparison, if we look at another popular topic namely healthcare, we would see it rise 251% over the same period of time. So instead of occupying Wall Street, why aren’t these folks conducting an old fashion college sit in…