Notes on higher education

I was talking with a couple of younger people who have both been employed in the field of higher education and can speak with some authority. I was surprised when both spoke about how traditional colleges and universities were losing students by the droves.

We went over some of the possible reasons and I think we agreed that there were multiple reasons. There was some agreement that part of it may have to do with the populist’s idea that colleges are elite liberal institutions and are part of some deep state plot to suppress the common man. While that is basically nonsense it is mostly true that people with college educations do tend to become a part of the elite establishment. After all, aren’t degrees supposed to result in better paying and important jobs? Isn’t that what we parents hope to see our children accomplish when they leave the nest for academia? Another reality about higher education is that exposure to a variety of ideas (otherwise known as education) should make more likely to challenge the status quo. Maybe that’s what populist confuse with liberalism.

Another reason for declining student populations is due to America, especially during the Trump era, not being as welcoming and friendly to foreign students. Before Trump, there were over a million foreign students in the nation’s colleges and universities. Since Trump entered the White House that number had fallen by 6%.

I would argue that the main reason for not choosing a college education is the out of control rise in the cost of tuition, books, and board. I graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 1969 and didn’t owe a single penny when walking off campus for the final time. Furthermore, the same was true for most of my friends. In 2018 the College Board reported the typical cost of a bachelor’s degree at an in-state public school would run $20,770 including room and board but not counting books and supplies. I don’t know how many actual textbooks are needed these days but I’ve heard many times about students having to pay in excess of $300 for a single book.

Add it up and today’s student is looking at having to cough up over $80,000 before getting their diploma and much of that may have come from student loans. While I began post-college life totally free of debt many kids today are looking at owing tens of thousands before even getting their first job. I got my debt-free degree, got a teaching job, went for a haircut, and afterward bought myself a brand new MG Midget as a reward for my years of hard work. Kids today get their student debt bill and then move into their parent’s basement.

Finally, in the past month, I’ve had several discussions with people in the skilled trades. Each had learned their trade from on the job training and instead of paying tuition they were paid good money to learn and develop their skills. One told me that as a retired inspector doing part-time contract work they were earning around $70,000 a year.

So, one has to ask what impact the trades are having on formal education? Just yesterday a person who works for a community college told me that while they were considering closing campuses they knew of a trade school that was overrun with enrolling students.

I don’t pretend to know what is happening, what all the problems are, or what all the answers are. But, I would welcome input from any of you readers. There is a section below where you can submit your comments.


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