David Leonhardt asks “Is College Worth It?,” and finds that the pay gap between college grads and people without college is at an all-time high. Fortunately, he sings one of my favorite songs here too:
[The] public discussion today — for which we in the news media deserve some responsibility — often focuses on the undeniable fact that a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee success. But of course it doesn’t. Nothing guarantees success, especially after 15 years of disappointing economic growth and rising inequality.
When experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the limitations of education, they almost certainly are discouraging some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to earn degrees. (Those same experts and journalists are sending their own children to college and often obsessing over which one.) The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014.
The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.
Longtime readers will recall my frustration with the “high cost of higher education” media conversation, mostly because I think it’s dominated by people who are choosing to pay for private, selective educations for their children, not by people who patronize our fine state colleges and universities, which have in fact kept the price of their educations artificially low by shifting a majority of their faculty from tenured or tenure-track positions to adjunct casual labor. Also, where’s the accountability for school performance by students in these conversations? Are students with 3.0 averages or higher suffering from unemployment at the same rate as students who didn’t work as hard in college? We don’t know, because no one ever holds alumni responsible for any part of their achievement (or lack thereof).
This article comes just a week after I submitted my final grades for the two classes I taught in the spring semester, an upper-level course aimed at History and other Liberal Arts majors, and a lower-level survey course. Continue Reading »