Monday, August 27, 2007

HORATIO ALGER AT 9 PERCENT INTEREST. At National Review's Phi Beta Cons blog, George Leef notices a Harvard Business Online article about the choice to either stay in college or leave to seek one's fortune. The HBO author is sympathetic to the latter choice:
There are several arguments to be made on that side of the coin. First: as competition for college-educated employees increases, companies will become more and more motivated to use those without college degrees effectively in the workforce, in jobs that today would routinely require a diploma-in-hand as the price of admission. They will come to screen candidates in different ways, searching, perhaps, for the Simon Cowells among them: those who are bright, motivated, and will make them money.

A second argument: in their desperate search for college talent, companies will join professional sports franchises in recruiting individuals earlier and earlier in the pipeline. It will become a sign of your exceptional talent to proclaim that you were hired in your junior or even sophomore year in college. Only those in the lower ranks of the class will make it through as seniors.
The Phi Beta Con perspective in general is that all our citadels of learning are run by Marxist lunatics, which may explain why Leef highlights the author's claim that "a perception that at least parts of today's college education are actually not particularly relevant may pervade more and more young people's (and older employers') consciousness."

But an increasing number of Americans are going after college degrees -- including graduate degrees. The most recent Digest of Educational Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education:
College enrollment hit a record level of 17.5 million in fall 2005. Another record of 17.6 million is anticipated for fall 2006 (table 3). Enrollment is expected to increase by an additional 13 percent between 2006 and 2015... The traditional college-age population (18 to 24 years old) rose 15 percent between 1995 and 2005, which was reflected by an increase in college enrollment...
And (pdf):
Undergraduate enrollment rose 21 percent between 1996 and 2005. Graduate enrollment had been steady at about 1.3 million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but rose about 59 percent between 1985 and 2005 (table 191)...

Growing numbers of people are completing college degrees. Between 1994–95 and 2004–05, the number of associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, first-professional, and doctor’s degrees rose (table 251). Associate’s degrees increased 29 percent, bachelor’s degrees increased 24 percent, master’s degrees increased 45 percent, and doctor’s degrees increased 18 percent during this period. The number of first-professional degrees was 15 percent higher in 2004–05 than it was in 1994–95.
I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that this upward trend in college enrollment and degrees has less to do with an increased thirst for the joy of learning than it does with students' (and parents') hopes that degrees will get them good jobs. The cost of degrees is steep and people are getting ridiculously deep in debt to obtain them. The shift toward private loans to pay for schooling has been a bonanza for a certain kind of lender:
Overall, student lending has been an extraordinarily profitable business. Sallie's return on equity, which was over 30 percent in 2006, is one of the highest among American companies, and its executives are compensated lavishly. From 1999 through 2004, former CEO and current chairman Albert Lord took home over $200 million. In 2006, current CEO Tim Fitzpatrick was paid $16.6 million in salary, bonuses and stock.
I have discussed here the popular notion among conservatives that our economy is doing so well that any negative perception by citizens of their own financial prospects is unjustified, and excited not by personal experiences but by liberal propaganda. From this point of view, I can see why they might also wish to believe that expensive degrees are unnecessary -- if your boy or girl has to drop out, he or she may still become a Simon Cowell. It's an optimistic view, in its way, of the sort that one might express casually when a friend finds that he just can't make the tuition payments. And in some happy cases it may even come true.

But people are digging deep to get those degrees if there's any way in hell they can be gotten. It's not easy for most of them, but they persist because they believe that opportunity comes with an ever-increasing price of admission, and they'd better pay it now before it goes up again. Because everything is going up, constantly. Maybe your grandpa went to the mill to earn the money to house and feed his family, but those days are gone: Your best bet is the diploma mill.

It doesn't look like a happy picture to me, but regular readers will know that I am not much of an optimist.

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