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How to Control the Exploding Price of Higher Ed

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The spiraling cost of college threatens to leave higher education out of reach for anyone but the most affluent. In response, politicians are urgently calling for more aid—but economists believe that this is a short-sighted approach that might actually make things worse.

  • The number of international students on campus has increased rapidly in recent years. Since 2010, under­graduate enrollment at four-year institutions has dipped slightly.  But the drop-off would’ve been much steeper without the boom in international students – whose numbers have more than doubled over this peri­od. (See: “Did You Know? The Campus Goes Glo­bal.”) Students from mainland China dominate the new surge: At the University of California’s ten cam­puses, Asians now outnumber whites. Yet while this might seem like a win-win situation, tensions have begun emerging: Schools are finding themselves unprepared to handle culture and language differences—and some critics frown on the notion that they’re effectively outsourcing their high bills
  • The long-touted college wage premium has grown weaker. One of the bedrock arguments favoring a col­lege degree is that graduates have much higher earn­ing potential than non-graduates. While this is still true, the prospects of the college-educated have grown dim­mer: Wages for college graduates have recently declined while jobless rates have risen. What’s more, the earnings gap between college graduates and the less educated has stopped growing; gains over the past decade have large­ly flowed to those with graduate degrees. What once was a one-way ticket to the middle class is subject to far more uncertainty—and that’s not even considering the in­creased debt burden.
  • Any reform will require changing minds as much as policies. The persistence of tradi­tional higher ed isn’t for a lack of alternatives. (Remem­ber MOOCs or Open Bad­ges?) One reason is that college’s value is both education­al and social; these options can’t replicate the com­mu­ni­ty Millennials hold dear. But it also speaks to the enduring importance of prestige among applicants who want the brand name and employers who use it as a hir­ing short­cut. No option will be able to compete with elite schools until the public is able to declare the upstarts just as valuable—or more hiring managers take the time to evaluate skills instead of school rankings.

Read the complete article by Saeculum Research




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