Do Americans spend too much on education? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.
Americans are spending more and more on education, but the resulting credentials — a high-school diploma and college degrees — seem to be losing value in the labor market.
Americans who go to college are triply hurt by this. First, as taxpayers: state and federal education budgets have ballooned since the 1950s. Second, as consumers: the average college student spends $17,000 a year on school, and those with loans graduate more than $23,000 in debt. And third, as a worker: in 1970, an applicant with a college degree was among an elite 11 percent, but now almost 3 in 10 adults have a degree.
Several debaters kick around the question: Does college pay? Others asks whether the traditional comprehensive high school pays.
Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, calls for tailoring K-12 education to students’ interests.
Other developed countries offer adolescents a choice of curricula. Finland, for example, offers all students leaving ninth grade — the end of compulsory schooling — the option of attending a three-year general studies high school or a three-year vocational high school, with about 50 percent of each age cohort enrolling in each type of high school. The “comprehensive” American high school has outlived its usefulness, but our policy makers have chosen to weaken its academic goals and ignore its career-forming capacity rather than serve the diversity of adolescent interests, talents and needs in grades 9 through 12 — at a much greater cost to the students, their families and society
Middlebury Psychology Professor Barbara Hofer wants to reallocate time and money.
High school degrees offer far less in the way of preparation for work than they might, or than many other nations currently offer, creating a growing skills gap in our economy. We encourage students to go on to college whether they are prepared or not, or have a clear sense of purpose or interest, and now have the highest college dropout rate in the world.
We might look to other counties (like Germany, Finland or Denmark) for models of how high schools can offer better training, as well as the development of a work ethic and the intellectual skills needed for continued learning and development. I recommend Harvard’s 2011 “Pathways to Prosperity” report for more attention to this persistence of the “forgotten half” (those who do not go on to college) and ideas about how to address this issue.
“Spending on K-12 schools, adjusted for inflation and enrollment growth, has roughly tripled over the last 50 years, yet there is little solid evidence that today’s students are better prepared for work and citizenship than their grandparents were — and even some evidence that they are less so,” writes Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and an Ohio University economist.