Sunday, April 21, 2013

The title of the book “Is College Worth it?” really sums up the arguments that the authors (William J. Bennett and David Wilezol) make in this book looking at the state of higher education today and whether or not it is financially advisable for young people to choose this route after high school.  In looking at both the costs of attending college and the current employment opportunities that await recent college graduates, the authors contend that, for the most part, college isn’t worth it, particularly if students have to take out large amounts of debt to attend college.  There are plenty of stats and studies thrown around to support their position:  54% of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed; 1 in 5 households has student loan debt; the average student graduates with $23,000 in loan debt; and so on.  However, these statistics begin to lose their impact when the same ones are repeated over and over.  For instance, the assertion that tuition rose 8.3% while inflation was only 3% in 2011 was stated on pages 14, 30 AND 31 (just a few paragraphs apart, in this last instance).  There are also some stats that seem to contradict one another.  At one point they state tuition rose 400% (4 times the rate of inflation) over a certain period, and in another that tuition rose 300% (again 4 times the rate of inflation) over a time period that differed only by a few years. 

The main problem the authors have with our current higher education system is that tuition costs keep rising, mainly due to the unchecked proliferation of easy student aid.  As long as the federal government, and to a lesser extent, banks, offer students seemingly endless amounts of ‘free’ money in the form of grants and loans, colleges have no compunction about raising their fees to take advantage of this bounty.  However, there is no accountability, either on the part of colleges to prove that increased tuition leads to increased value, nor on the part of students to prove that they are academically or economically prepared to incur such debts.  Another problem the authors see is that our society encourages everyone to go to college, when many students would be better off attending some other sort of short-term training that leads to well-paying jobs without incurring crippling student loan debt.  The authors lament the perception that skilled trades jobs are somehow inferior to “white collar” jobs, even if the people doing those jobs are making more money and have no debilitating student loan debt.  Students themselves are also at fault, both for taking out unreasonably large loans, but also for choosing to study fields that don’t lead to employment.  Additionally, schools can be blamed for not being rigorous enough:  today’s students have plenty of leisure time, consult online sites to find “easy” courses and benefit from grade inflation, even in “elite institutions.” 
But, of course, the main villains in this whole thing are the “liberals” who have taken over higher education.  The authors (you can imagine them shaking their heads in consternation) report that in the 1970s, Conservatives concentrated on advancing in business and religion, and that left higher education to the clutches of “doctrinaire liberals.”  Setting aside the repetitive statistics and political finger-pointing, there are some good points to consider in the book.  The authors include a list of “schools worth attending” at the end of the book. 
Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book from the Book Sneeze program in exchange for this review


Susan said...

Enjoyed your review -- I'm currently reading the book and really enjoying it. I went to school in the US and although that was over 20 years ago, even then many of my profs *were* quite liberal. I can't imagine things would have improved much since.

Lisanne624 said...

Thanks for your comment, Susan! I can't remember any particularly political profs I had in college, but maybe I was too engrossed in trying to figure out the course material to notice! :)

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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