Higher education losing its value?
Published: Friday, January 11, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 11, 2013 00:01
If I had a nickel for every time I was told college is key to my success, I wouldn’t need to take out any student loans. Gone are the golden ’50s when a high school diploma could secure you a comfortable middle-class job, a house in the suburbs and 2.5 kids.
Nowadays, it seems like a four-year degree has replaced the high school diploma in terms of career opportunities and potential income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2011 bachelor’s degree median weekly earnings were $1,053, whereas the median weekly earnings of a high school diploma were only $638. Combining these facts, which paint a bleak picture of financial doom to all those without a degree, with the statistical improbability of winning the lottery, it appears I have no choice but to compromise my current financial security by taking out student loans to pay for a degree that is now worth far less than it did 20 years ago.
Not only is a bachelor’s degree worth less, it now costs more. College attendance has skyrocketed, and with it so has tuition. Accounting for inflation, the total tuition and student fees for an in-state student taking 15 credit hours at OSU was $2,150 in 2005, compared to $2.580 in 2011. This is an 18 percent increase in tuition in six short years.
I realize Oregon State offers many fantastic resources such as health care services and student success centers, which is paid for by student fees. The cost of education, however, is quickly becoming unreasonable. According to the Project on Student Debt, 2011 college graduates in Oregon owed an average of $25,497, with 92 percent of graduates having taken out loans.
Much of the rhetoric in the 2012 presidential election centered around regrowing the stagnant middle class. A bachelor’s degree, however, is quickly becoming the basic requirement for people who hope to gain entrance to the suburban utopia that is the American dream.
I believe universal education is the only way to grow the middle class in today’s competitive workforce. Employers are now able to choose from a huge pool of highly educated workers, who are all desperate for a job to pay off the thousands of dollars in loans taken out to pay for the degree qualifying them for the job. It is a vicious and confusing cycle, but hold on, it gets worse.
With the huge number of college graduates companies now get to choose from, students need to find other ways to make their resume stand out. It can be expensive to train new workers fresh out of college, so companies look for workers with previous work experience as well as a degree.
The question remains, how do you get relevant work experience if you can’t get a job without a degree? That is the genius behind the unpaid internship. A company gets the benefit of a highly educated worker without having to waste money on a salary. The intern is paid in valuable job experience that will apply later in life, and the unspoken promise is if the intern does well, he or she will be hired by the company as a full-time employee. This, however, is rarely the case. I know this comes off as overly critical, and I do not want to undersell the value of an internship, but I am simply pointing out the hidden requirements for finding a job as a college grad.
I’ve digressed from my original point: Universal education is necessary for regrowing the middle class because of the increasingly competitive global workforce and the ever-growing number of people with college degrees.
Not everyone is willing or able to take out loans to pay for higher education. Anyone can do the work required of a bachelor’s degree, yet many people miss out on the opportunity because of the ludicrous cost of tuition.
I know this opinion may be unpopular, but I believe the federal government needs to rework the education system. We have some of the finest universities in the world and yet we make an industry out of what should be a basic human right. Imagine a world where your tax dollars subsidized education so individuals from any socioeconomic background could earn a four-year degree. Think of the potential talent we miss out on by having a large percentage of our population go without the opportunity to obtain higher education.
Some may call complete federal subsidization of tuition expenses socialism, and to those individuals I would like to point out that, up until 12th grade, education is socialized. It is a simple fact that a high school diploma is no longer enough and it is high time our education system is updated to suit the demands of this age.
Finn Van Order is a sophomore in environmental sciences and microbiology. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Van Order can be reached at email@example.com.