Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tulips and Tuition

Why college costs will soon plunge
"Aid to higher ed already has exploded: In 1964, federal student aid was only $264 million, or $1.7 billion in current dollars. Today, the feds shell out $105 billion a year just in student loans. Total federal aid has soared from $64 billion (in 2000) to $169 billion (in 2010). 
Flooded with such largess, colleges have sent prices skyward (tuition is up more than 500 percent over the past three decades) and indulged in luxuries that would have made Marie Antoinette blush, from gourmet dining halls (sushi at Bowdoin, vegan at JMU) to rock-climbing walls. 
Last month, Virginia Commonwealth University announced the construction of two new dorms that will add 426 beds. Their $41 million cost comes to more than $96,000 per bed. Thank goodness Virginia is, comparatively, fiscally conservative: Princeton recently built a dormitory at a jaw-dropping cost of almost $300,000 per bed. 
Trend lines like these cannot go on — and they won’t. But not because of politicians’ efforts to rein in college costs. College costs will drop because of market forces politicians will be powerless to stop." 
Yes... true... but I think there's really a simpler way of putting it.

College tuition will soon collapse, because eventually people realize that tulips aren't worth very much.

I really did love Aaron Clareys book "Worthless" . I've ended up giving it to several students and parents I know. If you are one of those things, spend $5, to help save $100,000... you won't regret it.

I have a double degree in Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science, from a prestigious private engineering school... and I've never used either degree, except in pursuit my own personal interests (hobbies basically). Worse from a pure economics standpoint; excepting those organizations that require a college degree to consider a candidate, neither have particularly helped in my career.

My college costs were somewhat less expensive 20 years ago (in constant dollar terms, about 20% less), and the Air Force was helping me to pay, but I still had to have side jobs to pay for it... (though I graduated without debt, by choice).

My alma mater is a top 20 school in all its major disciplines by any major ranking, and in the top ten for several disciplines. It was recently ranked as one of the "500 best college values" near the bottom of the top 100. Boiled down... it's a very good school and for very good schools it's only moderately expensive.

To replicate my college education today would cost $184,000... and that's just in tuition, never mind books (books in engineering school can run several thousand a year), food, housing, transportation etc...

The majority of AFROTC scholarships have a tuition cap of $18,000 per year, and the student has to pay the difference. That's not even half the current tuition at my alma mater; which by the way graduates a higher percentage of AF officers than any school other than the Air Force Academy, and more in absolute numbers than any school other than the Academy and Texas A&M.

Much as I loved my school, and as great as the education I got was... not even CLOSE to worth it.

In fact... I don't think ANY college education, except that which is absolutely required for the technical elements in your chosen field (particularly STEM fields of course), is "worth it" from a career or economic standpoint, based on current pricing.

College is great for growth as a person... expanding ones horizons, developing habits and skills of learning and research, finding ones self and ones interests... But $185k is a hell of a lot to pay for that.

... and that's only a MID priced school these days.

Mid priced private schools are running in the $40-$50k a year range for tuition, fees, and board. Top priced schools are in the $60k a year range.

In-state tuition and fees (not including books, room, and board) average $13,000 a year for state schools. Out of state tuition and fees (again, not including books, room, and board) at state schools averages $32,000 a year.

The most expensive of the public universities, charge nearly the same for out of state tuition, as top tier private schools. Michigan charges as much as $40,000 a year tuition only. That's more than some Ivy league schools (the Ivies also may offer generous endowment grants to reduce tuition further)

All that debt, when in the job market... a degree isn't the advantage it once was.

As a hiring manager, my experience is that it doesn't matter how good a school you came out of, if you have no experience in the real world, and a BS or MS... you're worse than useless, you're actively harmful.

I have to spend two years to get you to unlearn the idiotic crap they taught you in college, and another two years getting you to actually be a useful employee.

This is true for everyone but the extremely capable, self motivated, and self educating... and for them, it doesn't matter whether they have a degree from a prestigious university, or a community college, or they are entirely self taught.

I'd rather have someone self taught, with 4 or 6 years of useful experience, with a quick and twisty mind, and a habit of learning; than ANY college graduate.

The degree... it's really nothing more than a piece of paper certifying that you're probably not a felon or a drug addict; and that you can show up, and follow basic instructions, for four-ish years.