Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Continued Dumbing Down of America

The article below lays a sad reality emerging in America.


The rising cost of college — even before the recession — threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans, according to the annual report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent.

Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

“If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the center, a nonpartisan organization that promotes access to higher education.

“When we come out of the recession,” Mr. Callan added, “we’re really going to be in jeopardy, because the educational gap between our work force and the rest of the world will make it very hard to be competitive. Already, we’re one of the few countries where 25- to 34-year-olds are less educated than older workers.”


“The middle class has been financing it through debt,” he said. “The scenario has been that families that have a history of sending kids to college will do whatever if takes, even if that means a huge amount of debt.”

But low-income students, he said, will be less able to afford college. Already, he said, the strains are clear.

The report, “Measuring Up 2008,” is one of the few to compare net college costs — that is, a year’s tuition, fees, room and board, minus financial aid — against median family income. Those findings are stark. Last year, the net cost at a four-year public university amounted to 28 percent of the median family income, while a four-year private university cost 76 percent of the median family income.


Among the poorest families — those with incomes in the lowest 20 percent — the net cost of a year at a public university was 55 percent of median income, up from 39 percent in 1999-2000. At community colleges, long seen as a safety net, that cost was 49 percent of the poorest families’ median income last year, up from 40 percent in 1999-2000.


“Projecting out to 2036, tuition would go from 11 percent of the family budget to 24 percent of the family budget, and that’s pretty huge,” Mr. Shulenburger said. “We only looked at tuition and fees because those are the only things we can control.”

Sorry if this a little too personal a testimonial but what the hell.....besides family, I owe everything to the educational opportunities of which I was able to take great advantage in my life.

But like so many from middle class or lesser economic background, I relied heavily on merit scholarships, work-study, student loans, and personal savings from minimum wage work, to access a first-class education.

I was fortunate enough in high school to earn a 50% academic scholarship at Archmere Academy. I put myself through Georgetown University on the GI Bill, earned from a 3 year active duty enlistment I entered after freshman year, and an Army ROTC scholarship after I returned. I still owe substantial loans for law school at UVA.

All of this was worth the hardships of military service and worth the work of studying hard and trying to make the most of my formal education. Above all, it was the willing-to-reward-initative generosity inherent in the programs in which I took part that made it all possible. Without them I may have had to settle for less, a discount on my dreams.

I know I would have been just as happy turning a wrench or pounding fenders, since I did this for years to make money for school. But I doubt I would ever be as fulfilled as I believe life has been because of such a wonderful and diverse educational journey.

Not everyone has to have a college education. The worth and prosperity of our society rests as much on those who are technical laborers as on the college-educated, if not more. But those who want to go the higher education route should always have that opportunity, irrespective of their economic station in life.

On the flip side, young people need to be educated from very early on that college is not some libertine escape from adolescent family life, a party stop before they have to get real - and thus often just a pre-workforce mill allowing for escapism.

Getting real may have to come early for many, if they are serious about developing their talents and managing their lives to meet their highest potential through college and beyond. Unfortunately I think the popular culture pushes against such values, such that many young people rather than working to achieve their dreams are instead preening to chase fantasies.

Ultimately each individual is responsible for their own higher education. But it should never be beyond reach for anyone willing to apply themselves and work hard.

Undoubtedly Delaware Libertarian Godfather Steve Newton may have some insights to share, far better than mine. I certainly don't have the answers, only observations. I know we can't ignore this ominous portent that wealth rather than merit will continue to reinforce itself.


Anonymous said...

As the mother of a high school freshman honor roll student I'm worried. We're shooting for four years of straight "A"s in the hope it will give us an edge. He understands this as well. We'll see... so far, so good.

The cost of tuition is stupid high. When did we, as a country, stop believing in the value of an educated society? My one hope... that these tuition costs will burst like every other economic bubble. Sound harsh? Maybe, but I'm looking at a kid who thrives in an academic setting, reads constantly, and wants to be a chemical engineer. He's holding up his end of the bargain. I want to be able to hold up mine.

It's disheartening, especially when you factor in subsidizing my father-in-law. I feel trapped between generations - both of whose needs aren't outrageous.

Tyler Nixon said...

I feel your pain, but also your hope Pandora.

Sounds like you have a wonderful partnership with your son, that he realize his dreams.

This family effort is critical. Your engagement will be his biggest blessing.

I had the same blessing with my mother, who was the lynchpin to everything I wrote about here.

I have confidence your son will make it. You will be immensely proud. And he will be forever grateful for your sacrifices.

Delaware Watch said...

Great post, Tyler. I often think of the millions of dollars that DE gives to the Univ. of DE w/o the string that the university lower (or at least hold the line) on its tuition costs. This fact is especially poignant given that the U. of DE is one of the most well endowed universities in the nation.

This topic often instigates my social democratic fantasies. I imagine our nation as one that has a significantly decreased military presence in the world and which uses those savings to help subsidize the costs of anyone qualified to attend college. I would look on such a policy as one that is as fundamental to the long term soundness of our economy as are investments in infrastructure.

Steven H. Newton said...

What are you doing over here while I'm reading DE Watch? :)

As an insider on this one I can tell you that even cutting the defense budget to nada wouldn't do what you want, because (and here I'll drop Libertarian for a moment) the health care industry has nothing on the higher education industry when it comes to price-gouging.

These stats are rough (I am away from my own computer right now) but the proportions are right: if, in the past four years the cost of healthcare in the US has gone up 135%, the cost of a college education has gone up nearly 400%

As to why, later this week I am going to break one of my own self-imposed rules and explain exactly why. I usually don't comment on this subject, given that DSU is my employer and I'm the Union president there. But enough is enough.

a most peculiar nature said...

I know so many people that are struggling with this. When they tell me the costs involved I am flabbergasted ! People are re-mortgaging their homes (if they can) and hoping for the best.

There is something not right about this, but I'm not sure what to do about it.

My parents could not afford to send me to college in the traditional sense (dorms, frat parties and such), so I commuted to U of D and worked the middle shift at a clerical job. I distinctly remember my Dad's frustration at the time.

Pandora, along with Tyler I have a feeling you and your son will make it through, but there is something terribly wrong here. You don't deserve it, and your son doesn't deserve it.

Trapped between did it come to this?

Anonymous said...

Oh how we part ways. You see, I believe as my father said "If you can't afford to go, you don't go". This made all the difference, that every cent, birthday check, and job worked, propelled me to and thru college. We were the serious students then. Now, brings on a college mentality of "right of passage", that does mean an extended Ft. Lauderdale/Spring Break lifestyle for about 2 years. I don't blame colleges for gouging. The unprepared student they have to accept nowadays and remediate is shameful. College should be just that; and not 13th grade. These watered down, drive thru degrees may as well be bought, because they sure aren't earned. Tyler, you did right by demonstrating prior the commitment, drive, intelligence, and sacrifice in obtaining your degree. That's the integrity maintained of a true college education, and the authentic precursor to life. Pandora, if your son is all that you describe, he too will succeed and be able to manage the financial end thru talent and some of the same forementioned talents. The money comes--just get them there, and you'd be surprised the departmental money and individual largesse that can be tapped as their talent and commitment becomes apparent. It's the flaky notion and pop sentiment that all kids go to college driving the tuition up, like some popular summer camp. It's all worth it in the end; if the end is REALLY what is wanted. Wouldn't you agree Tyler? I say the student loans in this writer's life were the second home. But the first home is a quality education, with the earning capacity to make and AFFORD choices, because of disciplined strategy and effort. More importantly sacrifice, via delayed gratification is the secret accelerent in making all this happen--and separates the whiners and entitled who are campus crazy for a bit, from those who are buckled down and see education for the tool and not the fool. And I don't mean tool as in the slang of today. Hang in there. Pay the dues, distinguish yourselves, and reap the rewards.