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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

College is an 'expensive gamble' for the artsy and the unprepared

College is seen as an "expensive gamble" by many Americans, concludes a recent Public Agenda survey. Half say college "is a questionable investment because of high student loans and limited job opportunities." Skeptics include half of young people with degrees. Furthermore, two-thirds of Americans "view higher education as stuck in the past and unable to meet the needs of today’s students."


Student at the New England Conservatory of Music

Postsecondary education is required for most jobs that provide a path to the middle class, writes Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce. But choosing a certificate or degree path is risky. Some programs leave graduates worse off than when they started.


At 52 percent of colleges, a majority of enrollees don't earn any more than high school-only workers six years after they began their studies, writes Ron Lieber in the New York Times. That includes dropouts, not just graduates. After 10 years, a majority of students earn no more than high school graduates at 29 percent of colleges.


Those numbers come from a study three years ago by Third Way, which Lieber calls a "center-left thinktank." Here's a school-by-school spreadsheet. Author Michael Itzkowitz used data from the U.S. Education Department's College Scorecard, which tracks people who received federal student aid of any kind and were employed and not enrolled in school six years after entering college. Itzkowitz compared earnings to the average income for a high school-only worker, then $28,000 a year.


Music and art schools did poorly. "At the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, 48 percent of the people were earning more than a high school graduate six years after enrolling, according to the data that the Third Way study used," writes Lieber.


Unselective colleges often enroll poorly prepared students who have trouble completing degrees or turning low-tech degrees into good jobs.

At Grambling State University in Louisiana, only 43 percent of enrollees "are outearning high school graduates six years later."


Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. is selective, yet does little better at 46 percent.

“The majority of our students come and leave because they want to be activists, artists, educators or entrepreneurs,” said Edward Wingenbach, Hampshire’s president. “None of those career paths have early income success.”
. . . He pointed to research that shows that by age 40, people who choose liberal arts degrees like the ones Hampshire offers see their incomes catch up to those who majored in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Actually, the research looked at people who majored in history or the social sciences (which includes economics), not all liberal arts majors. They were more likely than STEM majors to go into lucrative jobs in management, business and law. So Hampshire's entrepreneurs may prosper, but probably not its activists and artists.


Hampshire, then brand new, rejected me. I think they thought I was too conventional to be a good fit. Years later, I became friends with a woman my age who'd loved Hampshire. I told her my story. "You would have hated it," she said.


Colleges and universities that leave students with debt they can't repay aren't held accountable, warns the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which proposes new measures to link student debt with post-college earnings.

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11 Comments


Guest
Aug 31, 2022

There isn't much to suggest that college loan forgiveness is good for anyone but a select few, 'artsy and unprepared' among them. I did a quick check of student debt by state and, surprise surprise, three of the top five states + DC with the highest average debt is are Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Now I can't prove it, but it certainly looks a lot like this program is aimed at taking money from the peasants and giving it to the glorious residents of Panem along with their likeminded counterparts out in the provinces. Don't bother writing your congressman because guess which group the person reading the email is in.

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Guest
Aug 31, 2022

I understand the mindset many parents have that college expenses, to be worth the investment, should be ‘made up’ over time by a better paying job or more satisfying career than their child would have had without college. However, depending on your child, four years in an intellectual environment, with invested professors and counselors helping them navigate their interests, natural giftings and building their personal skill set can be incredibly valuable. Ages 18-22 are pretty crucial ages. What is the best environment for your child during those 4 years? Are they truly college material and do they want to invest the time in their own higher education? They’re the ones who have to get up for those 8am classes, after…

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Guest
Sep 01, 2022
Replying to

'Ages 18-22 are pretty crucial ages..."


For what? Becoming an adult? Finding a spouse? Successfully aquiring knowledge in a time-compressed way?


We used to go to work earlier than 18-22. We used to marry in those years. We used to fight wars, start businesses, have children.


As neighborhoods and towns fail to have church, clubs, or other structured methods for young people to find suitable mates, college is a proxy for finding appropriately-valued, similarly backgrounded potential spouses. Parents will continue to spend a lot of money for that dating pool. The rest is largely not of value to them.


Re: bad income potential from LACs: many LACs are ready 60:40 women:men. Trustafarian women from well off families often have no…


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Guest
Aug 30, 2022

College is more than an "expensive gamble." It's a scam. There are probably only a half-dozen "selective" schools in the nation. The vast, vast majority are doing everything they can to eliminate selection criteria that is meaningful for student success and use criteria that insures they have the correct head count by race. That punishes the very people they proport to be trying to "help" because they are not prepared for college level work. One of two things happen: the students fail and are saddled with debt they will likely never repay, and/or the school reduces their academic standards so they don't look bad. And by doing the latter, they cheat every student.


Add to that the fact that schools…

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Guest
Aug 30, 2022

Turns out it’s only a gamble for taxpayers

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Guest
Aug 30, 2022

Get the federal government out of the business of making education loans and many of the very skewed incentives in higher ed go away, including this one.

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Guest
Aug 30, 2022
Replying to

But a lot of college students would also go away. And the screams would be that black and brown students would be hut the most.

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