Sunday, June 09, 2013

Something's Gotta Give: The American Higher Education System

My final college English paper, a "researched argument of fact", in which I argue that the American higher education system is in need of a revitalization.

Something’s Gotta Give: The American Higher Education System

College. University. Higher education is known by many names and faces. But, as high school students near graduation, pressures and demands regarding higher education, and the futures come into the picture. Just what is the point of higher education? Is a degree worth all that much in todays job market? Is it too much of a gamble to fall into student loans to pay for a future that is so uncertain? As prices rise, scholarships change, funding disappears, and disillusionment and cynicism rise, students are calling for a change. It’s time for a revitalization in higher education.

There is a great societal impression upon us that a higher education - read a degree - is imperative to success not only as far as our careers go, but the rest of our lives. The key to middle class, as it were. In fact, “The completion of postsecondary education has become a minimum requirement for young adults seeking a place in America’s middle class” (Quinterno 4). However, despite the pressure to go to college, no matter what it takes, at the same time there is something of a conflict in the “advice” of society, such is a pressure felt by many students. It is shown here expressed in this tumblr “chat” post. One blogger demonstrates a students feelings regarding this societal pressure and conflict. 

The post has since garnered 136,114 “notes”; notes being the amount of times other users have favorited and shared the post on their own blogs. The “notes” continue to rise. While not every single person in the United States of America expresses such an opinion - and such a generalization is just that, a generalization - from the statistics for the post alone it can be said that there are many students who share these feelings.
Academic pressure abounds. While this isn’t anything new for the high school students of today, higher education brings with it an even heavier pressure to succeed (Kadison; DiGeronimo). To pass, even if you’re not truly absorbing knowledge or pursuing something you have an interest in. 

Over the past decade alone, major changes have come about in the economy of the United States. A disturbing amount of funding for colleges has been cut. As far as higher education is concerned, the cost of college has risen, scholarships have changed and even disappeared; all the while the average income of the middle class American has not seen much of a rise. “Although the incomes of the bulk of American households stagnated over the past two decades, the price of higher education escalated steadily” (Quinterno). 
Despite the fact that the majority of students enrolled in higher education are attending public, two-year colleges it is these very same colleges that “cuts in spending on instruction are deepest in” (Wellman).
Textbooks, while not considered a part of tuition, are an additional and major expense that takes its toll on students. In an article for The Huffington Post, one Tyler Kingkade writes “College textbook prices have increased faster than tuition, health care costs and housing prices, all of which have risen faster than inflation.” In the last 30 years the price of textbooks has gone up by 812% ,  frighteningly faster than the 559% increase in tuition and fees (qtd. in Kingkade). Sadly, textbooks don’t even hold their value. Within 3 years, what was once a new, high priced, textbook can already be a thing of the past, as classes require the new editions the industry has already produced. 
New editions are released on average every 3.9 years, but a 2008 report from the California state auditor found many college deans, department chairs and faculty members admitted revisions to textbooks are often minimal and not always warranted (qtd. in Kingkade).

In speaking with adults - who are considered both middle-aged, and middle-class - the general consensus among those who did not attend a college or university, but instead pursued job and career opportunities straight out of high school, is that they made the right choice. They found themselves already in well paying, management positions, in their careers by the time friends who attended college or university were graduating. When those who attended college reached graduation, they were already into their 20‘s, with loans to pay off, little or not job experience, and finding it difficult to secure employment. Many of those who did pursue higher education are just now, upwards of 25 years after graduating from a college or university, are finally nearing, or successfully paying off loans taken out to pay for their education.
Many debtors over 40 are still paying balances from college years ago, while their home values and savings have declined sharply in recent years. Some have stopped payments after losing jobs. Many parents—no longer able to tap home equity to pay for their children's education—are taking out new student loans to do so (Mitchell).

How frightening is it that the rest of one’s life can be so immeasurably defined and impacted by the attempting to further education after high school? According to recent data, the number of American’s with student debt shot up in 2012; from 23 million in 2005, all the way to 37 million (qtd. in Mitchell). 
Students therefore have turned to debt as a means of bridging the gap between attendance costs and available financial aid resources. It is unsurprising, then, that the volume of outstanding student loan debt has grown by a factor of 4.5 since 1999 and that Americans now collectively owe more in outstanding student loan debt than credit card debt (Quinterno 28).

What comes after college? Higher education seems to be viewed as something where the ends justify the means. But is the massive debt worth a degree, and does a degree truly guarantee success in life, and the job market? 
...there is growing anxiety in America about higher education. A degree has always been considered the key to a good job. But rising fees and increasing student debt, combined with shrinking financial and educational returns, are undermining at least the perception that university is a good investment (“Not what it used to be”.

 Back in the day, having secured a degree or some form of higher education made you stand out. It said that this was someone who values knowledge and has the drive to commit to succeed. In an article published in The Economist, the writer expresses that American higher education is “Not what it used to be” (“Not what it used to be”). However, in today’s world, having a degree from an institution of higher education is rather commonplace., posits essentially that because so much of the working population has gone, or is going to college, a degree no longer guarantees success ( Erika Andersen, in her article for expresses that “in the US, we over-rely on time spent in school as a measure of intelligence…and of fitness for a job.” As it is, many subjects are considered something that a student will not find employment in. In one such instance, via Forbes, Peter Cohan goes so far as to suggest that some subjects should be altogether removed from higher education, just to avoid post-college un-employment, “...cut out the departments offering majors that make students unemployable.” While such a suggestion is drastic - and quite possibly detrimental to the overall growth of knowledge on a personal basis - as far as having a better chance of a job after college, he’s not necessarily wrong. “...academia’s effort to preserve its special exemption from the laws of economics is becoming too burdensome for many students, parents, and lenders to bear” (Cohan).

There are, however, alternatives to the higher education system of today. One of which has been around for centuries, but has sadly been pushed aside and frowned upon. The apprenticeship. “Largely overlooked...apprenticeships offer a promising route for preparing...students for high-skilled jobs and professions.” In her paper on apprenticeships and the place they could have in American higher education, author Diane Auer Jones suggests something slightly different from what we all feel and know; “maybe college isn’t broken”. 
Pressure to go to college can be great. Students may have heard from parents, high-school staff, elected officials, and the media that only by going to college can they enjoy a financially secure future and social prestige...[But] the college experience may not be a good fit for all students (Jones 1). 

Sadly there are students considered “at-risk”. Students who deal with learning disabilities such as ADD, ADHD and dyslexia, for example, do not learn in the same way as the average student and benefit as “kinesthetic learners” in the environment an apprenticeship provides (Jones 1). Not only do apprenticeships offer a way of learning better suited to those who need to understand the real-world applications of what they’re being taught, but they also bridge that gap between school, and working to pay for it. “For is work and work is school, so learning and working occupy the same space and time, rather than competing for attention” (Jones 2).

Forbes, one of the worlds most acknowledgeable in the world of business and finance, has a website that can be found surprisingly packed full of articles introducing the wisdom of postponing, or even avoiding going to college altogether. 
In “Do I Really Need To Go To College?” Erika Andersen writes, “I’m convinced there are some people for whom college is simply not the best way to learn.” 
“Why You Should Postpone College” writer Brett Nelson writes, 
I propose a theoretical pre-college regimen called “grownup training”...Specifically: six months spent working in a factory, six in a restaurant, six on a farm and six in the military or performing another public service such as building houses, teaching algebra or changing bedpans.
Essentially, a “gap year” or, in this case, two involving learning and gathering work experience and knowledge in the real world before committing to college.

All the while, not attending an institution of higher education at all is also an option (Schlack).

So what is the solution? While I am only a student aspiring to further my knowledge, and myself do not have the experience to definitively suggest a solution, it’s safe to say that there is something wrong with the way the higher education system is operating. Lack of funding, societal pressures, the financial situations of most students, the high costs of an education, economic and career stability, all have lead to a growing cynicism and disillusionment. It’s time for a revitalization in education. 

I propose, perhaps it may oversimplify a complex and pressing issue, and what I’m proposing would be no small feat; but what if higher education was not just seen as something you have to do, but a way to expand your mind and prepare you for your future? What if college didn’t cost an insane amount of money that will take you a lifetime to pay? What if instead of having to invest money in general classes, students were only required to take classes directly relevant to their chosen career or degree; thus cutting down on costs. True, some students require general studies, but many are very similar, if not in some ways, the same as what was (supposed) to have been taught in high school. What if general studies were the electives?

What if the higher education system were to evolve and merge with apprenticeships to create degree programs that not only instill knowledge, but also real world application and experience. All while focusing on the things that are of direct import to the students area of study and chosen career.
What if? 
It’s time for a revitalization in higher education.

Works Cited
Andersen, Erika. “Do You really Need To Go To College?Forbes. LLC, 6 August 2012. Web. 1 June 2013.
Cohan, Peter. “To Boost Post-College Prospects, Cut Humanities Departments.” Forbes. LLC, 29 May 2012. Web. 1 June 2013.
Jones, Diane Auer. "Apprenticeships Back to the Future." Issues in Science and Technology 27.4 (2011): 51-6. ProQuest. Web. 24 May 2013.
Kadison, Richard, Theresa Foy DiGeronimo. “Academic Pressures at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004. Web. 24 May 2013.
Kingkade, Tyler. “College Textbook Prices Increasing Faster Than Tuition and Inflation.” The Huffington Post., Inc. 4 January 2013. Web. 1 June 2013.
Mitchell, Josh. “Student Debt Hits The Middle-Aged.” The Wall Street Journal.Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 17 July 2012. Web. 3 June 2013.
Nelson, Brett. “Why You Should Postpone College.” Forbes. LLC, 25 January 2012. Web. 1 June 2013.
Not What It Used To Be.” The Economist 1 Dec. 2012. Print.
Quinterno, John. “The Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine The Future Middle Class.” Dēmos. Dēmos, 3 April 2013. Web. 23 May 2013.
Schlack, Lawrence B. “Not Going to College is a Viable Option.” American Association of School Administrators. Web. 24 May 2013., 5 April 2013. Web. 1 June 2013.
The United States of America on college education.” Tumblr. Web. 1 June 2013.
Wellman, Jane V. "THE HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING DISCONNECT: Spending More, Getting Less." Change 2008: 18-25. ProQuest. Web. 24 May 2013 .

Popular Posts