Sunday, September 04, 2011

A double whammy for college students?

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review examines the pressures on college students who are faced with increasing tuition and reduced financial aid opportunities.
A Tribune-Review analysis of tuition and required fees at more than 20 public and private nonprofit colleges and universities in Western Pennsylvania showed increases ranging from 52 percent to 116 percent during a 10-year period, when increases in median household income failed to keep pace with inflation and student debt soared.
Those trends threaten to price higher education out of the reach of a growing number of students, experts say.
Increased costs ranged from a low of 52 percent at tiny Waynesburg University, a private college, to highs of 116 percent at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University. The increases outstripped the nation's 27.5 percent inflation rate and a special, higher education inflation index of 36.7 percent during the period.
Patrick Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a national nonprofit that studies higher education issues, said the numbers reflect a pattern that has dogged higher education for years.
"Tuition increases, from the early '80s on, have outstripped income and inflation, but what makes this one of the worst decades is income has not been growing. If income had been growing and tuition was rising, it would be one thing. ... I don't think anyone will say you can do this for another decade and have an accessible, affordable system of higher education," Callan said.
Mark Kantrowitz, an author who publishes the FinAid and Fastweb financial aid sites and has testified before Congress, agreed the trends are troubling.
College costs not only are outstripping income gains, they are increasing faster than some of the most basic aid programs, including the PELL program that targets grants to low-income students, Kantrowitz said.
While that story reviews the situation in Pittsburgh, it can be expanded to include the national picture.

Then there is the second problem -- that diploma no longer guarantees a job and the requisite financial security. The Economist reviews that issue, noting:
There are good reasons for thinking that old patterns are about to change—and that the current recession-driven downturn in the demand for Western graduates will morph into something structural. The gale of creative destruction that has shaken so many blue-collar workers over the past few decades is beginning to shake the cognitive elite as well.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer asks the (always) provocative (and always overly simplified) question: Is higher education worth the price? And as you might expect, it finds enough evidence to offer an inadequate answer:
Since 1980, the cost of a college education - at a public or private school - has roughly tripled in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. And various researchers have estimated the average debt of a graduating student at $23,000 to $27,000.
Still, a Pew survey conducted in the spring of this year found that nearly every parent among a national sample of 2,142 adults said they expect their child to attend college.
Questions about the need for high school graduates to pursue four-year degrees have been raised in some unexpected places.
College education, to me, is a bit like college football these days -- find the best way to make a buck. Consider that funding for education (at all levels) has been cut by states' governors, forcing schools (at all levels) to make uncomfortable cuts or ask for more money. But the more you base education on who can pay for it -- and how they get the money to do it -- the more a system of haves and have nots is established.

If you think of the college sports analogy, consider what the perception of the so-called "mid-majors" will be if indeed there are four super conferences? Those 64 teams would be a little more than 50 percent of all Football Bowl Series (nee Division I) programs. But the power, money and prestige they would possess would be viewed as more significant than the slight majority they actually are.

But in the context of the changing classification of college football, they are going to see themselves as necessary -- just like colleges themselves do. Gone is tradition. Gone is the historical purpose of education (and college athletics) serving as a means of developing the whole individual.

Instead, it is a non-profit system acting like a for-profit entity. How fun.

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