College Should Be Free, But Not For The Reasons You Think

October 24, 2015 0 Comments

I’ve already discussed the problem with skyrocketing tuition cost, and the many factors (well, the only factor) attributing to that growth. The problem is that none of the policies enacted thus far as worked to mitigate the problem. So, maybe we should consider the possibility of making college available to everyone. That’s a very popular solution, and one many progressives’ tend to support. They’re right, but not for the reasons you may think.

The problem is that many degrees in our universities are intrinsically worthless. So worthless, that it really shouldn’t be possible to find people who are willing to pay thousands of dollars for them. The tricky part is that most colleges charge their tuition per credit, and most colleges require 128 credits for a Bachelors Degree. A degree in Liberal Arts cost about as much as a degree in Accounting or Biochemistry. Considering this, is making a college education available for specific majors be a step in the right direction?

Possibly. People with a college degree, on average, earn more money than people without a college degree. However, this is because not all college degrees are created equal. According to a study conducted in 2012 by Carnevale, Cheah, and Strohl of Georgetown University, the differences in levels (as well as the professions associated with these degrees) have grown substantially. Considering the changes, median earnings of a recent college grad specializing in engineering can vary from $50,000 while English majors are only capable of earning a median income of $30,000.

The following chart shows the unemployment rate for a broad spectrum of college majors.

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And this chart details the median earnings of each college major (recent, experienced and graduate holders) relative to the industrial unemployment rate.

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Naturally, industries such as architecture have taken a hard hit considering the aftermath of the housing bubble, but these industries are more likely to grow as the housing market develops (or never develops, as the case may be). However, there are some industries where hoping to gain employment is just impractical.

I’ve already discussed the issues with trying to obtain a law degree and the potential possibility that not everyone who obtains a J.D. will become a lawyer, much less get a job in a relevant field. The Hard Times study is a bit dated, which has the unemployment rate of recent law and policy grads at 8.1%. When I looked into the unemployment rate of recent law school grads (which was a few months ago), the American Bar Association had this figure at 9.7%. It’s also not surprising that the unemployment rate for other non-technical careers, such as liberal arts (9.4%) and social science (8.9%), are also fairly high.

And what happens to people who can’t find jobs in their field of study? They end up working in jobs that are completely unrelated to their field of study. If you’re a law school grad, this means you’re working in what they like to call a J.D. advantage job. Jobs you would most likely be able to get without a law degree. For other graduates, there is the possibility that these students will end up working in positions that does not require a college degree. Depending on the data you use, you’ll find that there are a substantial amount of recent college grads who are “underemployed.”

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Considering the evidence, maybe it’s time to rethink the college affordability issue. Since non-technical majors are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed and earn less money on average, perhaps time that colleges and universities all across the country offer these programs for free. What the labor market is simply telling everybody is that these fields are essentially worthless. Would you mortgage your future to pay for something that has no value to anyone, including yourself?

And no, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from following their passion. The problem with following your passion is that passions tend to change (it sure did with me) and if you’re not looking at your college education for what it is, an investment, you’re going to make some big mistakes down the road. A college degree isn’t an investment if you’re not researching the possible challenges and job prospects 10, 20 or even 30 years down the line. It isn’t an investment if you take out loans just for the college experience. It’s probably asking a bit much to ask first-time college students to be more pragmatic about their choices. Consumers do their own due diligence before buying a new electronic devices or pieces of clothing, people need to be more savvy about mortgaging their future.

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