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Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 5/9/14


(Note: the author currently acts as an advertising spokesman for the University of Texas at Tyler. The author acts in that role out of belief that pursuit of a college education at UT Tyler, or at a similar institution, addresses many of the concerns set forth in this article.)

If you are a parent with a son or daughter graduating high school this month, please let me recommend a piece by Daniel Oliver published yesterday at entitled “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Student Debt Has Got to Go!” In the piece, Oliver paints a sobering picture for families with a college-bound child.

In 1966, it cost the current equivalent of $8,752 to attend the University of Southern California. Today, it’s $42,162 – up nearly 500 percent. That picture is fairly typical.

In light of this information, there are two questions parents and students should be asking. “What does one get for that money?” and, “Why is the cost of it nearly five times higher than it was a generation ago?”

For too many graduates, the answer to question number one is, ‘a degree of next to no value in the current jobs market.’ While the cost of college has been going up, the real-world usefulness of a college degree has been going down. Somewhere between our college years and those of our kids, a whole bunch of mushy, and often socially-conscious, grievance-driven curriculum got invented.

It might surprise the parents of students at the University of Pennsylvania to learn that their sons and daughters may advance toward their degrees through a course called, “The Feminist Critique of Christianity.” It might similarly surprise parents of students going to Swarthmore to learn of a course called, “Interrorgating Gender: Centuries of Dramatic Cross Dressing.”

Graduates with CVs filled with such courses learn soon after graduation that they are not in high demand in a market where there are far more job applicants than there are jobs.

All of which is bad enough but intolerably worse when the factor that is driving college costs up at five times the rate of inflation is considered.

That factor is student debt.

When parents were having to tap into savings to pay for college, there was price sensitivity. Not everyone could afford college and thus a stern costs vs. benefits calculation was made as to college vs. vocational school vs. some other path into the workplace.

But with a growing ‘everyone should go to college’ national ethos and a concomitant national policy of universally-available student debt, price sensitivity was replaced by a buy now-pay later mentality. Colleges began raising prices because demand spiked and because no one really objected on price.

But much worse than simply raising prices, colleges began luring students – at a time in their lives when they were most vulnerable – into taking on debt to pay for education that was unlikely to advance their careers or their earning power.

So here’s the test for parents of the high school class of 2014. If five years after graduating college your son or daughter is likely to be earning less than what a year of that college cost, you should be very concerned.

If that same son or daughter will be in debt at some multiple of that annual salary, you should step in and keep it from ever happening.

If enough parents do this for their children, we’ll get college costs back under control.

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