The New College Education

The New College Education

New trends in higher education represent a significant shift in the way that we think about and use college.

There has been a tectonic shift in the importance, benefit, and students of a college education in the past five decades. College has never been more important to career stability and life-long earning potential, but the benefits are declining with increased unemployment and a ever-increasing pool of eligible candidates to contend with for fewer jobs. Finally, there has also been a reversal in the types of students that enter college, with significantly more women going to school and getting a degree than men. These trends show a vastly different college education evolving in the next several decades, one that will bear little resemblance to what we’ve known.

First of all, the necessity of college is practically a moot talking point. The potential lifetime earnings of a person with a Bachelor’s degree is, on average, nearly twice as high as a person with a high school diploma. Furthermore, unemployment rates among those with a college degree are less than half that of those with a diploma. That’s why people are going to college. The problem is that they’re not staying there, at least not long enough to get the degree. As recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, for the first time in history a majority of the unemployed have attended college. That doesn’t necessarily mean, as some have started to indicate, that college is no longer worth it. It just means that more people are trying to go back (which is typical of a recession), but are unable to stick it out.

The cost of college is the culprit here. College enrollment may be at an all-time high, but the cost of attending is still skyrocketing; increasing well past the rate of inflation going all the way back to 1981, and accelerating even faster within the last several years as states are forced to cut budgets. This means the more people are trying to go back to school, but are dropping out when the debt gets too large to handle. What that leaves the unemployed former student with is both the increased debt load but no increased job prospects. Higher education is increasingly becoming a double edged sword, and compounded by a stagnant economy, it cuts that much deeper.

A college education remains the single best investment one can make toward their future. However, it requires a generation of people, parents and students, that have prepared financially for the increasing costs. Still, if this trend continues there will come a point when the cost outweighs the benefits, and individuals become unlikely to see a return on that investment. At that point, higher education will need to significantly reform in order to survive, because students will stop footing the bill.