(Looking Back and Looking Forward looks at the articles and posts I found interesting from the previous week, along with reflections about how the trends they point to might shape my thinking about education and technology.)
I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past two decades thinking about the value of formal learning at the postsecondary level. I continually ask questions like, “What should it really cost?” and “How can students (and their parents) make rational decisions about whether or not an investment in higher education is worth it.”
To be clear, I am a proponent of formal, higher learning in general. There are essential, thinking, and professional skills that are beyond what students learn in their pre-adult years, and can have tremendous personal/professional value when packaged and delivered properly by qualified professionals.
That said, it’s not hard to understand why many Americans are skeptical about the long-term value of a traditional college degree.
A new study from Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization, released Monday reflects several public opinion surveys across the years that demonstrate increasingly pessimistic attitudes on the value of higher education. The study shows that most Americans are concerned with affordability, access and the overall payoff of a college degree. Among the most skeptical were young Americans without college degrees.
And such public doubt is only exacerbated by stories like this one, about the guy who racked up $347,000 to earn a law degree and is still struggling to find a job.
Bryan Alexander has a terrific analysis of how the consensus around the value of a college degree has eroded in the U.S., and what the implications for that erosion might be.
As Alexander points out, many Americans believe that there are alternatives to the traditional college degree when it comes to reaching middle-class status.
At this point in my life, I’m aware of just how hard change can be. For one person! It’s much more difficult for institutions and societies (huge understatement). But, I don’t think the majority of Americans are wrong on this one. It’s time for traditional higher education — colleges and universities — to examine their real missions, rethink their product models and associated credentials, and start over with their pricing.