Stuart Schneiderman cites a report that aggregate student loan debt has now surpassed $840 billion..and is still climbing. He suggests that these debts will have a major impact on the choice of marital partners, via a sort of reverse-dowry effect, as well as creating a long-term overhang on the housing market.
So what are students getting in exchange for debts that they may be paying off for a significant portion of their entire lives?–and what are we as a society getting in exchange for this vast expenditure of resources?
Certainly it is possible to get a good education at many American colleges–“good” in the sense both of an economic return that will justify the student loan debt and from the standpoint of individual intellectual development and preparation for citizenship in a democracy. But in what fraction of cases does this positive result actually occur? The current Businessweek reviews the book Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus. Excerpt:
After three decades of tuition increases exceeding the overall rate of inflation, a ritzy college degree comes with a $250,000 bill. Uninspired—and usually underpaid—part-time instructors do 70 percent of the teaching these days, according to Hacker and Dreifus. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, often described as the country’s top undergraduate business program, freshmen in Management 100 are taught, in part, by undergraduates who took the course just a year or two earlier. “Few sophomores,” the authors write, “have the fund of information, techniques for coping with questions, or the skills for conducting discussions that college-level teaching requires.” Or that Penn’s $53,000 annual tuition would suggest.
At many schools, liberal arts students are cast adrift in a curricular sea of the overly vocational (at Ohio State, Turfgrass majors can specialize in either golf course or sports turf management) and the unnecessarily narrow. The authors raise an eyebrow over Stanford’s 229 undergraduate history courses, maintaining that many of these highly specialized classes simply “make life easier for the professor who often just has to use notes from his last article or the galleys of her next book.”