A new bestselling book bears a title, “Is College Worth It?”, that was not generally top of mind a decade ago.
That the question resonates today, however, probably explains why the book, out just a week, is already “temporarily out of stock” on Amazon, likely holding back its sales rank to a mere No. 250 of all books.
What has happened in the past several years to make this provocative question so current?
Well, for one thing, the cost of college tuition has risen by a whopping 42% from 2000 to 2010, according to the book’s authors, William Bennett and David Wilezol.
That questioning the value of a college degree has gained currency likely reflects more than increased costs, but a dawning awareness of decreased benefits in a weak economy.
Bennett’s status as former secretary of education in the Reagan administration adds irony to the college rite of passage whose assumed value made it the path of upward mobility throughout the postwar period. And as a political conservative opposed to what he sees as liberal indoctrination on college campuses, his critique of higher education has a broad focus.
But a narrower look at the economic and financial aspects of the college decision bears relevance, no matter what your politics.
The reasons include increased costs and decreased benefits in a straitened economy.
A policy paper written earlier this year for Ohio University’s Center for College Affordability and Productivity by the economists Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart and Jonathan Robe noted that 48% of college graduates are working in occupations requiring less than a 4-year degree. In fact, most of those positions required no more than a high school diploma.
Yet many college students emerge from their universities not only with degrees, but with substantial student loan debt that must be repaid, whether they find work in their chosen field or not. And many emerge with the debt but without the degree.
So employment prospects amid a recovery economists view as the weakest since World War II matter to parents and students weighing enrollment decisions before the fall semester.
And according to Vedder, Denhart and Robe’s research, underemployment and overqualification are trends that should persist throughout the decade.