Counterpoint: Do the benefits of a college education outweigh the costs?

Jacob Bloch, Contributing writer

When we conduct a cost-benefit analysis of obtaining a college education, we have to look at this subject in its entirety; we cannot just analyze whether or not a college degree pays off, because this makes the very enormous assumption that the student will complete the degree.  Only 46% of students receive the benefits of completing a degree, as 54% do not graduate.

The most important factor we have to consider in this is the risk of attending college.  In the U.S., the majority of students do not graduate. This is supported by data from the OECD, which states “among 18 countries tracked, the United States finished last – 46% – of students who completed college once they started it.”

Therefore, only 46% of the students are receiving the benefits of a college education.  The 54% who drop out do not receive anything close to the benefits of a college education, with nothing to show for those years besides a bill to creditors for the education.  While it is true that they experience a marginal increase in wages, those who drop out experience nowhere near the benefits described by those who graduate, as none of those studies apply to them, so the costs of a college education for 54% of students do not outweigh its benefits.

This has a threefold impact. First, the 54% still have to pay for the tuition and expenses associated with attending college.  Because most college students cannot afford a college education, they finance their education by taking out loans for thousands of dollars.  The Department of Education states that the national student loan default rate is approximately 14%, and the Institute for Higher Education Policy found that only 37% of borrowers were able to pay them back fully and on time.  Had they chosen not to enter college, they would have been in the same position without debt.  For 54% of college students, the decision to attend college is a failure, but consequences still remain.

Second, the 54% lose time which can be used to earn wages and skills.  Had they not attended college, they could have either been interning or working in their labor force.  This provides an income during this period and allows them to gain real world experience.  For example, maybe someone can pursue the journalism field by working for a newspaper;  they will have four years to work full-time for these companies.  It is important to remember that the alternative is them attending college, not working in these areas full time, and still having to waste money.

Third, the negative impacts of 54% of college dropouts losing money and skills are a drag on society.  Excessive student debt, especially among dropouts, means less private spending.  Some of the tuition is even being subsidized with government funds.  Today, we have over $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. We are all, directly or indirectly, paying the costs of a college education.

“Graduate schools are already so expensive, in addition to undergrad.  The debt may end up on the backs of normal Americans as they pay for services,” said senior Caitlin Ferris.  Ferris is one of Schreiber’s finest intellectuals who has already been recognized by Intel for her contributions to social science research.

But what about the benefit for graduates?  Numerous people have challenged the College Board’s analysis, which claims benefits close to $1 million.  According to Inside Higher Ed, they do this by “bury[ing] in footnotes [the fact that it applies to] college graduates who also earn higher degrees.”

After reevaluating the variables, former chairman of the University of Texas, in the aformentioned article, found that “After adjusting for the cost of going to college and the difference in the number of working years, and excluding those graduates with advanced degrees. . . [it] produces a lifetime earnings differential of only $279,893 for a bachelor’s degree versus a high school degree.”  The College Board’s economists have even admitted the faults in their figures, calling them “misleading.”

The Economist reported the following, “A recent study of recruitment by professional-services firms found that they took graduates from the most prestigious universities not because of what the candidates might have learned but because of those institutions’ tough selection procedures. Students could be paying vast sums merely to go through a very elaborate sorting mechanism.”

“Most of the value in a college education is the signaling it offers employers, not what is gained intellectually,” said University of Chicago bound senior Noah Hirsh.  “Many people are going to college these days, causing a bachelor’s degree to become the standard. This diminishes that signaling value, but at the same time makes a degree more necessary to compete.”

Thus, what is the real world value of what is being taught in the university classroom?  Maybe all the benefits of a college education are correlative; the type of individual who attends college would have made more money anyway.

“A student who pays $80k and a student who pays $20k for college get about the same education.  They aren’t getting $60k worth of education more than the one who’s paying less,” said senior Ledner Giron, who will courageously be serving his country by participating in ROTC next year.