To The Daily Sun,
In 1643, Harvard College sent what might be called the first fundraising brochure to England seeking money to expand. It said, we built our homes, built our churches, and settled civil government, now we must provide for ways to advance learning to perpetuate posterity. Americas early and lasting enthusiasm for higher education has given it the biggest, best funded and most expensive system in the world. Now, grave concerns have arisen whether the cost is really worth it. The world is now trying to force students through the college process if it were a meat grinder. Demand for higher education has grown faster than demand for a new car. The enrollment ratio of college age students has increased from 14 percent to 32 percent in the past 20 years. The world and America has convinced itself the only path to the middle class is with a degree.
The world has two systems of higher education: The European model where colleges and universities share equal funding from state sources, and all have similar status. The second system is the American, market-based model where most funding is a mix of private (tuitions) and public funds where status is not equal, where there is a clear-cut delineation between top flight, elite colleges, the middle, and the bottom of the heap.
Costs for higher education are rising at incredible speeds around the globe sucking up ever higher percentages of GDP. The average is now 1.6 percent, up from 1.3 percent little more than a decade ago. America has the highest percentage at 2.7 percent. Tuition fees and education costs in general have run almost twice the rate on inflation for the last 20 years. The belief that throwing more money will get a better product has proved an illusion, especially in public grade schools. Student debt sits at record levels along with defaults on that debt now well over $1 trillion.
If we were getting our money's worth there would be little concern. On the research side America does seem to be getting good value. Last year 19 of the 20 universities that produced the most highly cited research papers were American. But on the education side the picture is far more gloomy.
The performance of American students on international tests like PISA demonstrate mixed results at best, where Asian countries continually outperform in high paying STEM pursuits. Another dire signal, employers continually complain graduates are poorly educated to perform the complex work they require. Education continually produces a mismatch with critical job skills. There are few openings for Greek philosophers, but we keep turning them out. "Sacking" unionized Greek teaching college professors is no easy task.
A recent study suggests 45 percent of college students made zero gains in learning during the first two years of college. Consider the billions of absolute waste in that math calculation all while colleges simply refuse to do the hard work of figuring out how to reduce and control costs the way private enterprise does. Parents should be outraged at colleges refusal to control costs.
In truth America has turned higher education into nothing but a very high cost "sorting machine". Recent top recruitment professionals say most often students from the best schools get the best jobs not because they are the smarter, but because the schools they got into have such rigorous acceptance procedures. In other words it isn't the student's work that becomes his or her ticket to success. It is the college he or she attended that guarantees it. Most colleges have become mass market meat grinders of education dilution to satisfy an insatiable demand for what is often a mirage to the middle class. For an ever increasing number, it is an unforgivable financial nightmare into hell.
Attendance at Americas most elite colleges has become an inherited benefit of the privileged aristocracy. Income and wealth inequality "begin" with education. Education stokes inequality's as surly and effectively as capitalism does, if not more. One statistic tells all. Sixteen percent of students now attending Harvard are the children of former graduates of Harvard. Harvard says it only uses this connection to sort tied tests scores. Who believes that when the parent donated $20 million to the Harvard endowment fund. Inherited great wealth all begins with "education" offering special privilege to a select few.