The great economic upheaval of the past few years has spawned many new, provocative public policy discussions in which long-held assumptions are being challenged. That's a good thing. Perhaps if some of the Wall Street "assumptions" had been challenged sooner, we'd have all been better off.
Recently, articles in Time, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Wall Street Journal, and discussions by policy leaders in Washington, raise questions regarding the cost, associated value and affordability - the utility, really - of a degree.
Simply put, is a college degree really still worth the cost given a job market that seems less able to provide jobs today?
Put in perspective, the answer is an unequivocal "yes."
Colleges provide a fair amount of grant-based aid to offset students' costs, so let's talk about debt incurred to attend college.
The median debt owed by a Bachelor's degree graduate is about $20,000, according to a College Board study. Less for a public university. More for private schools.
Compare that to the average debt level people assume when they buy a new car: $25,396, according to Experian Automotive.
Even given the challenges of today's job market, doesn't it seem intuitive that a degree - with its lasting economic, social, and personal value - is worth far more indebtedness than a car, which begins to depreciate the day you drive it off the lot? It does. Comparatively, the debt seems reasonable. And once you consider the societal value of a better-educated populace, and the socialization skills that students develop within the college experience, then it definitely is.
Perhaps the most important reason a college education remains a smart investment becomes clear once you examine the economics associated with a degree. Post-secondary education adds significantly to lifetime earnings. A Bachelors Degree? About $450,000 present value, according to the College Board. Even if that amount was cut in half, in general a degree would still seem worth the investment.
In fact, a report just released by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce concludes that jobs requiring an advanced level of education will far outpace workers qualified for those positions through 2018. And, the trend actually shows an increasing percentage of jobs will need some higher education - 63% in 2018 versus about 60% in 2007.
And, it concludes that there will be a shortage of degreed workers by " at least 3 million post¬secondary degrees, Associate's or better. In addition, we will need at least 4.7 million new workers with post-secondary certificates."
The economic argument makes even more sense once you examine who's been losing their jobs in the current downturn. According to data produced by Economic Modeling Specialists, eight out the top 10 occupations that lost the most jobs from 2007 to 2009 were ones that didn't require a degree.
So those lifelong earnings improvements? They will remain.
And let's not ignore another fact. Other nations are focused intently on advancing the education of their populace. UNESCO reports that post-secondary enrollment worldwide increased from 2000 to 2007 by 53 million people. That increase alone is nearly twice the United States total college enrollment. That's a lot of available competition for our jobs.
Economic times are hard, and changing. The old assumption - of highly valuing a college education - is being questioned, as are many old assumptions. And questioning long-held assumptions is a smart thing to do, given what's happened to the economy. There will be, and should be, refinements to educational delivery approaches which increase access and efficacy.
But while some assumptions deserve to be scrapped, this one does not. Because it still works.
When it comes to education - less is not more.
Randy Proto is the President and CEO of the American Institutes school group, which specializes in health care career education and serves over 2,000 students annually. It includes the American Institute College of Health Professions, American Institute and American Institute School of Health Careers located in Florida, and the Fox Institute schools in Connecticut and New Jersey.