Revolution in higher ed is slow to arrive; still desperately needed

The Economist has a suggestion on how to reverse the current situation where some college degrees aren’t worth the time and effort: Making college cost less.

A few points from the lead article:

Thirty years ago there one college bureaucrat for two academic staff. Now the ratio is one support staff to one academic.

The tech revolution is working its way into academia, but the progress is very slow.

One suggestion I’ve previously seen from Prof. Glenn Reynolds that the article agrees with: have universities absorb a portion of the student loans for those students who go into default. With some skin in the game of their students success, reforms might accelerate.

The longer article asks Is College Worth It?

Their answer? It depends on what your degree is and where you went to school. The second part is really asking how much did you pay?

One study calculated the difference between what college grads from a wide variety of schools and a wide variety of degrees would earn over 20 years compared to someone who didn’t go to college.

Engineering and other STEM degrees did well. Tip-top colleges did well. Many degrees and many campuses? Not so much.

The really bad news?

Of the 153 arts degrees in the study, 46 generated a return on investment worse than plonking the money in 20-year treasury bills. Of those, 18 offered returns worse than zero.

One of the most serious critiques on higher education is the abysmal graduation rate. The article makes the point I’ve read elsewhere:

Many four-year degrees drag on longer, and so cost more. Overall, the six-year graduation rate for four-year institutions is only 59%.

The six-year graduation rate is just over half? That’s scary and shocking.

I doubt that the eventually-you-can-get-all-your-classes-staffing structure is built into the calculations on whether a degree pays off. Increase that 4 year cost by 50% to six years, add in two more years with minimal income, and then adjust for 40% who never graduate. My guess is the present value of a year of college drops off even further.

Stories I’ve heard of the California community college system are that students generally aren’t able to get a full schedule. Don’t know for sure, but is sounds like it might take five or six semesters to get four semesters of classes.

Here’s hoping the tech revolution kicks in soon.

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