The increasing cost of a college education has made students, parents, and educationists question the worthiness of college education in modern society. Students and parents view a college education as a future investment aimed at improving their lives, while educationists and instructors perceive it as a tool for equipping learners with the necessary knowledge and skills to provide essential human labor (Barrow and Malamud 522). This disconnect proves that college education has different benefits depending on people’s stance on the education system. Based on his experience in teaching, Menand explains that students often ask questions regarding the monetary benefits of education in keeping with their aims and expectations. The belief is that investing in college education is no longer valuable because high school graduates earn more than those with a college degree. In this view, the monetary benefits of college education do not meet the costs, thus decreasing the volume of investment.
When students ask their lecturers about the benefits of purchasing assigned books or taking certain courses, the questions point out the essence of cost-benefit analysis in education. In his arguments about the benefits of education, Menand focuses on three theories: meritocratic, democratic, and non-liberal. Meritocratic theory views learning as a social mechanism for identifying and differentiating more intelligent learners from less intelligent ones. Essentially, the purpose of education is to select intelligent people and optimize their abilities and talents in various career paths. From this perspective, only intelligent people enjoy the benefits of education, as employers preferably recruit them. Thus, meritocratic-based cost-benefit analysis of education shows that college education is worth pursuing among intelligent learners.
In contrast to meritocratic theory, democratic theory perceives education as a tool for equipping learners with diverse knowledge and skills irrespective of their abilities or talents. Fundamentally, the theory promotes equality, inclusivity, liberty, justice, and freedom among people. Menand explains that education should be inclusive and offer freedom of choice so that learners could select their career paths, experience intellectual growth, and achieve success without competing with others. In this view, learners have equal capacity to pursue career paths of their choice, enjoy personal development and financial rewards for their knowledge, and these are the benefits of a college education. As for the non-liberal theory, it supports the study of non-liberal courses that allow learners to gain expertise in their careers and meet the demands of the labor market. Menand describes college as a place to gain vocational knowledge and skills so that learners can enter the labor market and satisfy the expectations of potential employers. Therefore, students perceive college education as the foundation of vocational development.
Comparison of cost-benefit analysis of college education from the viewpoints of the aforementioned theories provides important insights on the decreased worthiness of college education due to its increased costs and severe competition in the labor market (Barrow and Malamud 523). According to meritocratic theory, a college education is no longer valuable because of the unlimited access to education that consequently weakens the status of the education system. According to Menand, college education has lost its meaning due to a large number of Americans with degrees. In essence, education is no longer exclusive.
From the perspective of democratic theory, a college education is not valuable because inclusive policies have boosted competition in top colleges, resulting in increased costs as a way to exclude others. Menand argues that parents and students overvalue top colleges, although there are cheap institutions that offer education of the same quality. In a similar manner, according to the non-liberal theory, the demand for specialized knowledge is strong that makes them very expensive and exclusive. Consequently, learners and their sponsors are forced to pay for over-priced courses, making education no longer a worthy investment.
The value of college education has decreased gradually due to the exponential increase in costs. Students can forgo attending mediocre colleges because the volume of financial rewards they earn after finishing their studies is equal to that of high school graduates. The cost-benefit analysis of college education indicates that it takes years for students to recover costs and reap benefits. Also, college students need approximately eight years to clear their expenses for a college education. Forecasts of break-even points of educational investments show that 2015, 2030, and 2050 graduates would clear education expenses at the age of 31, 33, and 37 years, respectively (Long). This trend is alarming because it shows that learners would waste their youth gaining the education and paying out its cost before enjoying its benefits a decade away from graduation.
Professors believe that poor qualification of learners is the major problem of the education system. It derives from the fact that society pushes everyone through the system that unfairly sorts out intelligent people from less intelligent ones. Students attend colleges because the labor market compels them so that they can qualify for high-paying jobs. According to Menand, professors do not offer modern education because they still hold on to patriarchal beliefs and old-fashioned curriculum, which require learners to do liberal arts for courses. Hence, the apparent disconnect between courses offered in college and modern requirements points out to a major problem in the education system:
It’s also socially inefficient. The X-Man notes that half of all Americans who enter college never finish, that almost sixty percent of students who enroll in two-year colleges need developmental (that is, remedial) courses, and that less than thirty percent of faculty in American colleges are tenure-track. (Menand)
In this way, the diminishing value of education and increasing costs make college education not worthwhile in the modern society. Students waste not only money but also time because they spent over a decade to repay debts and break even.
Unlike in the past decades when education was not only affordable and cheap, the cost of education in modern society is very high. Long states that college education has become very expensive in the modern society, as a student in a private college requires over $43,000 annually, while a student in a public college pays over $20,000 a year. Compared to the past decade, the costs of education have doubled, while the inflation rate is less than double. Barrow and Malamud report that fees in public institutions have increased in the past two decades: from $3060 to $8000 in a four-year program and from $1200 to $2400 in a two-year program (524). For instance, at Harvard University, the 1971 fee ($2600) was equal to the average income of three months, while the current fee ($10258) amounts to an annual income (Schoen). High costs of education imply that it will take years for students to get employed and break even.
Moreover, the costs of a college education include not only fees paid but also time and potential earnings lost due to the engagement in a college program. Since more than half of students in colleges do not have full-time or part-time jobs, they incur a lot of losses – money they could have made while working. Barrow and Malamud assert that the percentage of students working has declined from 77.2% in 1990 to 66% in 2012 (526). Such a decline, coupled with the doubling amount of fees, implies that investment in education is no tenable among a considerable proportion of learners. Nevertheless, Barrow and Malamud observe that working while attending college has a negative impact on performance, as it leads to poor attendance of classes, low grades, and increased dropout rates. From this perspective, it is apparent that the high cost of education compels students to work while studying, resulting in unintended consequences mentioned above – impaired academic performance and increased dropout rates.
As job demands change, the education system should undergo changes as well. According to the non-liberal theory, modern society needs highly skilled and specialized people due to the fact that the labor market has become high-tech (Menand). In the same way, Long perceives that some degrees are more popular in the job market compared to others. Although graduates have flooded the labor market, employers in the United States and across the world complain that there are no adequate graduates with required skills or specialization. In this view, the choice of courses in college is an important factor that students need to consider when investing in their education. According to Long, 15.5 million students in the United States have enrolled in colleges, and those enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are considered enough to satisfy the needs of the job market. According to the postulates of the meritocratic, democratic theory, and non-liberal theories, the costs of education are very high and competitive (Menand). It leads to the existence of the following phenomenon:
Some degrees are more valuable than others. Salaries are going up much faster for students who attend the top universities and those who major in business, health care, and tech. Graduates studying lower-paying majors such as arts, education, and psychology face the highest risk of a negative return, for them, a college may not increasingly be worth it. (Long)
Because a college education is no longer worthwhile for students and parents to invest their money, the education revolution is necessary to restore its value and criticality. The benefits of a college education are not only monetary gains of a high-paid job but also personal development and social benefits (Long). The current state of affairs in the education system is not promising, as costs of college education have increased exponentially. Moreover, employers are struggling to get graduates with appropriate skills and specializations, graduates endure the frustration of unemployment and debts, and the government is yet to recover students’ debt of over one trillion dollars (Barrow and Malamud 520). International companies, such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Samsung, prefer hiring graduates and training them to meet their dynamic needs of labor. Therefore, the education revolution is necessary to streamline the education system to keep in tandem with the demands of the labor market and ensure that the cost is commensurate with the knowledge and skills gained.
All in all, the cost-benefit analysis of college education indicates that increasing costs have turned it into a poor investment for students, parents, and government. The increasing costs of education are not commensurate with the inflation rate and the quality of gained education (Schoen). Students spend vast sums of money to pay for college education, yet they get knowledge and skills, which do not meet the requirements of employers. As a result, it leads to higher unemployment rates, losing time and money, and excessive frustration. Menand links higher costs of college education to the real-estate bubble, which is about to burst in modern society owing to the impending education revolution. When all stakeholders realize and note the vanity of increasing costs of college education, they would agitate for education reforms aimed at ensuring that students get value for their money once they graduate and venture into lucrative job markets that await them.
Barrow, Lisa, and Ofer Malamud. “Is College a Worthwhile Investment?” Annual Review of Economics, vol. 7, no. 1, 2015, pp. 519-555.
The authors examine the worthiness of college education by analyzing surveys and conducting literature review. The purpose of the article is to compare estimated costs of college education and costs mentioned in the literature in order to speculate on the value of college education. The main argument of the article is that college education is still worthwhile to most students if they make appropriate choices of their careers. The authors come to the conclusion that college education is a worthwhile investment for most students and a bad investment only for some of them. In this view, I will use the article in my essay because it presents statistics regarding the worthiness of college education. Moreover, the article provides major arguments that are helpful for understanding how college education is a bad investment in view of rebutting them. As my central argument is that college education is no longer worthy investment, the article presents important points to support it.
Long, Heather. “Is College Worth It? Goldman Sachs Says May Be Not.” CNN. 2015, Web.
Menand, Louis. “Live and Learn: Why We Have College.” New Yorker, 2011, Web.
Schoen, John. “Why Does a College Degree Cost So Much?” CNBC, 2015, Web.