Colleges Gone Wild – Someone Save the Liberal Arts Education.

Colleges Gone Wild – The Last Bubble

Someone Save the Liberal Arts Education.

I had to do a double take after reading this Campus Grotto post.  It lists the top 100 most expensive colleges in the U.S., and on the top 10 is my Alma Mater. I have to say I love my school and the experiences and education it gave me. I honestly believe that the liberal arts education is the best college experience. But this is a warning that if these institutions don’t wise up, then the public eventually will, or worse, the expense will create and promote an even greater divide and misunderstanding between the rich and poor. They’re also hurting their graduates. Over 2/3rds of students graduating with a Bachelor’s degree are in $20,000 or more in debt. The debt is so large that the Wall Street Journal stated that student loans are making a new form of indentured servitude.

Before the Recession

Being at the school, I heard every argument for the high cost of tuition, especially since I had the privilege of leading the student government. To justify their expenses, they say that the high tuition is there to maintain facilities and faculty, and thus attract students. The life and blood of these institutions are tuitions and donations. These are all very real concerns, and to be fair most of the ‘rich kids’ paying full tuition at these schools are also in part paying for the financial aid of their peers.  President Leo Higdon’s op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes all of these points in more detail.

Mind you this op-ed was written before the great recession, but the more one reads it, the more out of touch with reality it seems. He’s saying that only 20% of the tuition is going to financial aid and “The remainder of our budget covers academic and student life – all of the study-abroad programs, funded internships, athletics, more than 100 student clubs and activities, interdisciplinary centers and more, which we offer to enhance our students’ residential and intellectual experience.”

Wake Up!

Wonderful! Sign me up! Wait? What’s that you say? $50,000 a year? Half Tuition $25,000+? What’s that you say? I can go to a public school for 7,000$ a year? Or to a University in Germany for 70 euros a semester (albeit heavily subsidized).

According to the New York Times, “college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 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.” Was the education these facilities offering that bad before? Did we really need to dump that much money into the schools?

I’ll be the first to admit that the opportunities given to me from the school were amazing and enriching, but $50,000+ a year is absurd. Would we all want every opportunity, program, and experience that can be offered? Of course, but at some point it becomes unrealistic and counter-productive. Many of these schools pride themselves on their diversity, but can one really preach about diversity when charging this price?

In addition (maybe this has changed after two years), there seemed to be no inclination of changing this trend. Everyone hung their heads when seeing the new tuition every year, but didn’t talk about it, or called it a necessary evil. Yes, we shouldn’t raise it again, but we all want those amazing new programs, facilities, etc…

By the time a person graduates from one of these institutions (if they take full room and board and without financial aid) they (or most likely their families) will be paying over $200,000. Even if you get half tuition you’ll be paying an absurd amount of money, and most students are in debt.

This price handcuffs recent graduates’ opportunities after they graduate; keeps many students away from these amazing institutions because they simply can’t afford it, or find a cheaper solution; and to make matters worse, unfortunately it is becoming harder to sell a liberal arts degree.

A plee. A solution?

There is no easy answer to this problem, but it is a big problem, and there needs to be a serious look and reform of the higher education system. In an increasingly global and complicated world, a liberal arts education is extremely valuable. To let these great institutions scuttle themselves for a lack of a solution is not an option I want to see.

If you are an alumni, student, teacher, or worker at any of these institutions, please start a serious conversation and get the ball rolling. If anyone can solve this problem, it would be a person with a liberal arts education.

It’s time to face reality. There needs to be some kind of action.



Filed under economics

2 responses to “Colleges Gone Wild – Someone Save the Liberal Arts Education.

  1. Jon

    Oy, that is embarrassing. I wish I’d gone somewhere cheaper. Stupid younger me wasn’t thinking about money back then.

  2. Miranda

    Great and enlightening post!

    As an undergraduate also holding quietly a liberal arts degree, I cannot agree more with the importance and relevance of liberal arts degree. Although many others scoff and ignore the worth of such a degree, it gives you the ultimate key: open-mindedness. You are exposed to different languages, literature, music, art, philosophies, so even though the degree doesn’t translate directly into a job, the degree translates to many different vocations and a willingness to try new things.

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