by Daniel L. Bennett
Trina Thompson is suing Monroe College for the $70k she spent on college tuition because she has been unable to find a job since graduating. While certainly not alone in the ranks of unemployed recent college graduates, her case does raise some interesting concerns that CCAP expressed in the past.
First, is the societal assumption that going to college will "guarantee" success beginning to come into question? For the past few decades, colleges have prospered with seemingly limitless tuition increases because the demand for postsecondary education has flourished in part because of the adage that college is the best investment that a person can make. Until recently, tuition inflation was not viewed with much contempt because society believed that a college education was a worthwhile investment in the future, no matter the cost. Public exasperation over the continual climb in the price of college marks a change in consumer sentiment that is exemplified by Ms. Thompson's lawsuit. She, as well as many other students and families, want to know what they paid all of that money for if not to improve their employability.
Second, what is the actual return on investment in college? What value do colleges add to an individual's employment opportunities, other than a credential in the form of a resume line? With a lack of publicly available data on measurable outcomes, such as student learning, job and graduate program placement rates and income tracking, we have absolutely no idea. From my understanding, most colleges have no idea either. There is no incentive to track this data as college officials rightfully worry that it might actually do more harm than good to expose whether graduates are finding gainful employment. Until schools begin tracking and producing such data, we are left to judge the value of a college based on its reputation, which CCAP and many others have found has only led to an academic arms race that has fueled the large increases in tuition.
Lastly, is the US over-invested in higher education? Proponents for a more educated populace continue to be charged by the dogmatic assumptions that college earnings differential is attributable to the education itself and that a more educated population is the clear path to sustainable economic growth. The evidence is currently scant, with additional empirical investigations and pragmatic approaches badly needed before we continue to plunge head first into additional higher ed investments.