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The many months of discouraging joblessness figures highlight an important factor: education. Last year the unemployment rate for people with a college degree was 5.4%. For those with only a high school diploma the rate was nearly double. In addition, an untold number of jobs go unfilled because there are not enough qualified applicants. Critics charge that institutions of higher education today which include, public, private, community and for-profit colleges fail to meet the needs of students, especially economically disadvantaged students, and face serious challenges with regard to affordability, access and quality: Join us to talk about higher education in the U.S. today.
The U.S. suffers from what’s been called an education deficit. A surprising number of jobs go unfilled because there’s a shortage of qualified candidates. Many say our higher ed system is to blame, and that too few students are able to get the education these jobs require.
Spending The Most On Educating The Few
Only about 30 to 32 percent of the U.S. population above the age of 25 has a bachelor’s degree, Kaplan’s Andrew Rosen points out. But currently, 60 percent of the jobs in the U.S. require at least some college. The real challenge, Rosen said, is getting what he calls the “second third” access to higher education. “Even though we as a society spend more on education per capita than any other country in the world, by far, we keep on falling further back in that attainment challenge,” Rosen said.”And it is driven by the fact that we spend more and more money on the most advantaged students in our country.”
The Quality Of Public Education
In spite all the money we spend on higher education, though, employers often complain that college graduate job applicants are inadequately prepared for the working world. Some college professors blame the nation’s faltering public education system. “What’s happened is now 60 percent of students who enter community college need remedial education,” The Aspen Institute’s Josh Wyner said, with 25 percent of those going to four-year colleges requiring the same. Even if students struggle, though, Wyner said those with associate’s degrees earn an average of about $400,000 more over a lifetime than those with a high school diploma, and those with a four-year degree earn about twice that.
The College Affordability Factor
Several listeners called in to speak about the difficulty of obtaining affordable student loans with reasonable interest rates, and the panelists agreed that college needs to be more affordable in the U.S. Harvard University’s Claudia Goldin said that although high interest rates are discouraging, she doesn’t believe that the cost of college education is something that the public should be paying for. In her view, the capital market should be much better at providing affordable loans, but she looks at the cost of a college education as “individuals investing in themselves” and said that “they should be getting a high return for it.”
Could Online Education Help?
One caller lamented about what he sees as the lost potential of online education. The caller, Rick, believed that online higher education could drive costs down significantly and open up higher educational opportunities to many more people. Rosen said that online education is still in its infancy and may yet provide opportunities to people who haven’t had them in the past because of prohibitively high costs.
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. suffers from what's been called an education deficit. A surprising number of jobs go unfilled because there's a shortage of qualified candidates. Many say our higher ed system is to blame. Too few students are able to get the education these jobs require. Joining me to talk about higher education in the U.S., Andrew Rosen of Kaplan, Inc., Josh Wyner of the Aspen Institute, Barmak Nassirian of the Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and joining us from a studio at Harvard University, Claudia Goldin.
REHMShe's economic historian, labor economist and professor of economics at Harvard University. Do join us with your questions and comments 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Claudia Goldin, if I could start with you. Talk about what people are calling the education deficit in this country. What is the gap between the education students are getting what they actually need?
MS. CLAUDIA GOLDINWell, students in the United States get an extremely wide variety of education. We have, believe it or not, 7,000 post secondary school institutions. They are all over the map, they're giving training in a very wide variety of fields including liberal arts and just about everything under the sun from cosmetology to dog grooming. So it's not exactly clear what it is that there is a deficit of. There are lots and lots of jobs and there are lots of people to fill these jobs. Many firms claim that students come in to fill these jobs are not well prepared. It's not totally clear, exactly, what that means, whether it is preparation in truck driving or whether it's preparation in basic skills.
REHMIn basic skills. How do you see it, Andrew Rosen?
MR. ANDREW ROSENWell, I think we have an attainment problem in our country. That is, our country does a pretty good job in providing opportunity for the top third of students coming out of high school or adults in the workforce. About 30-32 percent of our population, above the age of 25, has a bachelor's degree. The problem is 60 percent of the jobs in our economy require at least some college. And so are real issue is with that second third. How do we get them to get the college education they need to be effective in the workforce?
MR. ANDREW ROSENAnd one of the problems we have is, even though we as a society spend more on education per capita than any other country in the world, by far, we keep on falling further back in that attainment challenge. And it is driven by the fact that we spend more and more money on the most advantaged students in our country.
MR. ANDREW ROSENOn the students going to four year traditional universities who are experiencing, in many cases, a resort-like environment where we invest in, you know, climbing walls and swimming pools and so on even while students are who are trying to get access to community colleges can't find a place in the classroom for lack of funding. So we've a misallocation of resources in which we're spending too much on the most advantaged and we're -- we don't have enough money left in the pot for those who can access the education that should go to that second third.
REHMNow, Josh Wyner, turning back to this question about the so-called education gap. A recent PEW study of 57 percent of Americans rate the job that our higher education is doing in providing value for money spent by students and their families as being only fair. How do you see it?
MR. JOSH WYNERWell, what's interesting is that 57 percent is also the graduation rate from four year colleges. So we do have an education gap and it's reasonable for people to look at the eight percent increase in tuition over the last year and then ask, what are we getting for that money? We, at the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, are interested in what defines a great college. How can colleges really provide excellent value for the dollars which are increasing that people are spending?
MR. JOSH WYNERAnd we define that as making sure that students for learn, first and foremost. We've got to make sure that -- this sounds like something relatively simple, right, which is, you show up as a student in college, you pay a lot of money, you ought to be getting an education. We know from a recent study, "Academically Adrift," that was put out by a NYU professor and a professor at the University of Virginia that something like a third of students go all the way through four years of college and aren't improving on critical thinking ability. So we know that in some cases colleges are not providing the learning that students should expect from their dollars.
REHMAre you seeing any difference in that critical thinking aspect between young people who attend private institutions, community colleges or for-profit institutions?
WYNERWe don’t have -- I know that Professor Goldin has recently released a report about the relative outcomes of different institutions, GAO recently had a study that came out that looked at passage rates on licensure exams out of different kinds of institutions. The reality is that we're just starting to look at that. I think it's fair to say that all kinds of colleges, including the most elite, could do a better job of assessing whether students are learning, trying to improve that in providing greater value for the dollar.
WYNERThere's another place, though, that we have a deficit and that is in graduation rates, as I mentioned earlier. A professor, Tony Carnevale, at Georgetown has done some of the best research in this area. And what he projects is an eight million student gap. In other words, there's a gap of eight million trained workers that we're going to need for the workforce in the year 2020 and what we're projected now to be producing. So in addition to making sure that students learn, we've got to make sure that students graduate with the skills they need to be job ready. And right now, we're not on a track to produce the kind of workers we need for the country to be competitive in a knowledge-based economy.
REHMSo, Barmak Nassirian, what you've got are a lot of young people who get into these various institutions, but the graduation rate may not be quite as you'd like it.
MR. BARMAK NASSIRIANThat is certainly a true statement. We have over, the decades, maintained a nearly 60 percent graduation rate nationally. Now, you know, obviously higher ed beats itself up all the time over that figure. In many ways, it's the adjective that you put in front of it. Only 60 percent is one way of thinking about it, as many as 60 percent is another way of thinking about it, given the fact that we have increased the scale of access in this country in many ways that may be remarkable that as many as 60 percent do graduate.
MR. BARMAK NASSIRIANHaving said that, we ought to do a better job. You know, there is a little bit of a echo chamber and a mantra going on in the country of people overly stressed out over graduation rate. I just want to add the note of caution here. Simply mesmerizing oneself as graduation rates can miss the boat because, after all, graduation rates are highly susceptible to manipulation. Lower standards would improve your graduation rates, tightening selectivity would improve your graduation rates. So there really has to be an input, output analysis. What came in and what was the outcome in terms of value added?
REHMClaudia, I'd like to go back to the study that you've done on the percentages of students attending private institutions, public universities, small colleges, for-private or for-profit institutions. What do you see going on there?
GOLDINLet me just go back to a point that was made, having to do with graduation rates...
GOLDIN...and preparation, which is that, we're talking about higher education, but the people we get in higher education came from secondary schools. If they come from secondary schools and they're not, quote, "college ready," then the post secondary school education has to take care of that remedial education...
GOLDIN...at that level, is very serious. And Josh Wyner, for example, can comment on that having to do with community colleges and also Andrew Rosen can comment on that having to do with what are the for-profits doing with regard to remedial education.
REHMDo you want to comment, Andrew Rosen?
ROSENYeah. I mean, I agree that one of the issues we have in higher education is inheriting the population that comes out of our K-12 system which is relatively unprepared. But that's actually been a problem throughout American history. That is -- that's not new. The K-12 system for, you know, for a variety reasons, since the founding of our country, has been excellent with a certain population of students and whatever -- whether it was a rural population or a farmer population has struggled to create college ready students.
ROSENSo I can say that in the for-profit institutions, we are built around an -- and again, for-profit marketplace is quite diverse with lots of different institutions of different missions and quality levels. But as a general matter, for-profits are dealing with an adult population, a population that is already in the workforce and is built around that population and has a pretty good track record of succeeding with that population in helping them work their way into good jobs.
REHMAnd working their way into good jobs may take a rather circuitous route, doesn't it, in the sense that sometimes they come out of these for-profit institutions and are really not finding the jobs that they've been trained for?
ROSENWell, I think that in today's economy, you find that a lot of people are not finding the jobs that they're trained for, including students from our most elite institutions.
REHMAndrew Rosen, he's chairman and CEO and Kaplan, Inc. He's author of "Change.edu: Rebooting for the New Talent Economy." Short break, right back.
REHMAnd as we continue our conversation about higher education, we were talking about the preparation for higher education that K through 12 throughout the country provides. Here is an email from Diana who says, "I'm a professor at a community college. One of my major challenges is that students who show up are not ready for college. They lack basic skills including math, reading and writing and etiquette. I am not able to prepare students for the work world because I have to spend a lot of time catching them up on material they did not learn in high school."
REHMAnd, Andrew Rosen, I just want to take issue with you on one thing you said, which is that across the country K through 12 has not worked. I think that has indeed happened gradually in the last few decades. Up until that point, it strikes me that K through 12 was adequately preparing children from going on either to work or to college.
ROSENRight. My point was throughout American History. And in my book, I talk about the fact that when the land grant schools were -- when it first began, the real criticism was that the students were not ready for college. They weren't college material. And similarly in the postwar period, when the community colleges began back in the '60s when the big rise of the community colleges, the big criticism was these students are not ready for college.
ROSENAnd so now today we talk about still with the community colleges and with for-profit colleges, you're taking students who are not ready for college. And the issue is that we need more students to be ready for college. And our K-12 system has actually -- we have -- the percentage of people who are graduating from high school keeps on expanding, but our economy needs more educated people. And the K-12 system has not been able to deliver college-ready students at the rate that our society needs college graduates.
WYNERYou know, I think what's happened is that we've expanded college participation, but colleges haven't necessarily kept up with that. A century ago, 10 percent or fewer of Americans went on to college. Today, the majority of Americans go on to college. So it's not as much that the high schools -- certainly we need to improve preparation levels in K-12 education. But in addition, we've now invited more students to the gates of our higher education institutions, we've expanded them.
WYNERAnd what's happened is now 60 percent of students who enter community college need remedial education. Twenty-five percent of those who go to four-year colleges need remedial education. And the real question is how are colleges going to deal with that? How are they going to get students who start behind and get them ahead fast enough so they're ready with job-ready skills?
REHMBut there is another question and that is posed by Stuart in Bedford, Texas. "Please ask your guests to give examples of what jobs require some college and whether this requirement is necessary or just for competitive reasons." In other words, are there many, many jobs out there that require no college whatsoever, Barmak?
NASSIRIANThere certainly are lots of low-wage, low-skill jobs out there that arguably don't even require a high school diploma. As a nation, we are not going to do well if we concentrate most of our efforts into producing those kinds of jobs.
REHMBut with college costs on the increase, as they have been steadily, how can the number of people who want to go to school and gain higher education, how can they do it, Josh?
WYNERWell, one way is in community colleges. Community colleges are growing at four times the rate that public and private four-year colleges are. And people are realizing that at $2500 a year, you can find an excellent education in some community colleges. Now let's be clear. Community colleges, on average, only about a third of the students who start succeed, so on average...
REHMOnly a third.
NASSIRIANBy which you mean graduates, right?
WYNERWell, I mean...
NASSIRIAN'Cause they may succeed without graduating.
REHMAh, that's true.
WYNERSo we would define success for a student as graduating with a certificate, a degree -- a two-year degree or transferring to a four-year college. About a third of students, more or less, are fitting within that. Now it is true that you can do other things. You can gain some knowledge without that, but let's -- if we look at the numbers, if you have an associate's degree, over the course of your lifetime, you will on average earn $400,000 more than if you just have a high school diploma. With a four-year degree, it's about twice that, somewhere between three-quarters of a million and a million dollars more.
WYNERSo we can talk about how there are other things you get during college and we should be measuring learning absolutely, but a degree does really matter.
NASSIRIANMy members are in the business of degrees so I find it a little strange that I'm now espousing this rather counterintuitive point of view. I am not unsympathetic to the graduation agenda so I agree with you that we all should do a better job. Having said that, at the end of the day, my strongest suspicion is that every listener, every family, every policymaker who funds the higher ed enterprise is ultimately interested in a fairly intuitive outcome, what was the return on investment.
NASSIRIANI don't care that you gave me a worthless piece of paper that I can't get a job with. And I don't care that the two icons of American industry Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both dropouts.
REHMDropped out, yeah.
NASSIRIANAt the end of the day, what we should be interested in is what is the return on investment. And here I want to add a somewhat dissonant note. For all of its self promotion as a remedy to the misallocation of resources, I have to tell you the for-profit sector has an abysmal track record when it comes to return on investment. The only return on investment that they excel at is back to Wall Street, which owns them. The students uniformly do less well and certainly the outcomes with taxpayers has been absolutely disastrous.
REHMHow do taxpayers fit in here?
NASSIRIANThe taxpayers fit in here because we fund a lot of this remediation that we all recognize as taking place in postsecondary education. Quite social Darwinistically, we funded with student loans and ten percent of the enrollment in this country are at for-profit institutions. And a whopping 47 percent of all defaults can be traced back to that sector so they're defaulting at five times the rate of other students.
REHMAnd who pays for those defaults?
NASSIRIANUltimately they do and we do. And we do over and over and over because what we're doing is we're marginalizing these defaulters, these victims, in many cases, by pushing them out of our economy. We deny them future retraining because they defaulted.
ROSENYeah, Barmak actually has this exactly wrong. The taxpayer cost of an education in a for-profit institution is a fraction of what it is in the rest of higher education.
NASSIRIANOn the front end.
ROSENIt is half of the -- it's half...
REHMHe said on the front end.
ROSENOh, no, no. Actually all in -- you know, fully loaded. It is half the cost of a student in a community college for the taxpayer and one-fifth of the cost of a public four-year institution. Because the only cost to the taxpayer of a for-profit student is the cost -- for the most part is the cost of a Pell Grant and the defaulted portion of a student loan. And the truth is that student loans in the aggregate repay with profit to the taxpayer, including defaulted student loans.
ROSENSo include -- the numbers that I've given you include an allocation for defaults on student loans, but the taxpayer -- the for-profit institutions are the best deal for the taxpayer. Now they're more expensive for students because students themselves are bearing the cost of their own education.
REHMGive me an example.
ROSENAll right. Well, I mean, I'll give you an analogy. If I buy a car for $30,000...
REHMNo. I don't want an analogy. I want an example of how much a student pays for a for-profit institution and how the loans are negotiated.
ROSENYeah, the -- well, let me just say that for a -- Josh talked about a $2500 cost of a community college education.
ROSENThe taxpayer is contributing directly about $7,000 for that education.
REHMFor the entire $2500...
ROSENNo, no, no. The student will pay $2500, often -- sometimes in the form of loans sometimes out of their own pocket. And then the state -- typically the state taxpayer is contributing directly to the institution another $7,000 so that the overall cost of that education is about $10,000.
REHMAll right. Now give me a for-profit.
ROSENIn a for-profit institution, the taxpayer is not making essentially any direct contribution.
REHMHow much does it cost the student?
ROSENSo a student would pay actually about a $10,000 amount, but it's coming out of the student's pocket, not the taxpayer's pocket.
NASSIRIANAnd the consequence, of course, is that we end up with nearly half of them defaulting on the loans. Now Mr. Rosen has a point. Maybe the government can go in on the backend and get blood from a turnip. But the question is, was this exercise worth the effort or did we hand our citizenry to a group of capitalists so that they could saddle them with crushing debt for life?
REHMClaudia, do you want to get in on this?
GOLDINI do want to get in on it. So you mentioned before that we did a study and one of the issues here that has come up before is that the student population in these various schools is a little bit different. And what the for-profits do, and they do it very well, is that they bring in the nontraditional student. They bring in the older student, women, blacks, Hispanics, disproportionately relative to other institutions. That's very good.
GOLDINOn the other hand, the question is how well did they do? So what we do is we actually do a horse race between the for-profits and the community colleges because the for-profits have these nontraditional students who have lower incomes, okay. They also have more family responsibilities. And what we find is that the for-profits do well in getting students to stay in programs, in graduating them from short programs. But at the end of the day, these students have lower incomes, they have higher unemployment, they have higher idleness and their default rates, as was just pointed out, are really quite astronomical.
WYNERYeah, and I think that the point that Claudia makes is exactly the right one, which is whether it is a for-profit institution, a private institution or a public institution, what is it that makes a community college great? What is it that enables students to know that whatever money they're investing in is worth the money they're investing? And the answer to that is whether they're learning, whether they're graduating and whether what they've learned and what they've graduated has value when they've left. And I think Claudia touched on all three of those things.
WYNERI want to mention that just two days ago, we announced the winner of the first annual Aspen Prize for Community College excellence. This was a year-long research project into over 1,000 community colleges. And what we found was that the winning college, Valencia in Orlando, Fla. is doing an exceptional job. Over half of their students graduate, even though over 70 percent are entering not-college ready. What we found is that the labor market outcomes, that students were employed after they graduate getting good jobs. And we found that they paid a lot of attention to what students learn so that every student, whether they graduate or not, is getting benefit for the dollars they're spending.
REHMJosh Wyner. He's executive director of the College Excellent Program at the Aspen Institute. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us non Facebook or Twitter. Let's go first to Lillington, N.C. Good morning, Samuel. You're on the air.
SAMUELGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking the call.
SAMUELI've got three small points and I'll take my answers off the air.
SAMUELFirstly, I was convinced to go to and get an associate's degree on the thought process that you get an associate's degree, work and have a job and then work my way through college. I'd like a comment as to whether or not these actually have any real worth anymore. I've been looking for jobs for probably two years now and I can't seem to find anything with an associate's. The minimum anyone expects is like 11 years experience or either a bachelor's degree.
SAMUELAnd secondarily, we hear the comments that too many students aren't able to perform basic reading, writing and math abilities at the collegiate level. Shouldn't we give credence to heading these students towards a junior college for that type of preparation so that four-year institutions can just specifically train for careers? And the third point is simply that I'm currently in a teaching education program. And I notice again that specific career training doesn't seem to happen until the third, fourth or fifth years. And that usually the first and second years are devoted to the basic level of collegiate preparation style programs.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Josh.
WYNERYeah, so absolutely there are associate degree programs around the country that are providing students with the kinds of skills they need to get real jobs. Let me give you an example. One of the finalists with distinction for the prize was a place called Lake Erie Technical Institute, a two-year college in Watertown, South Dakota. They have a 76 percent graduation rate. Over half of their students, by the way, are on Pell Grants. So over half of their students are from lower income families, but 76 percent graduate. And 98 percent of them, after they graduate, go on to get jobs.
REHMWhat kinds of jobs?
WYNERThe jobs range from being a -- from fixing airplane engines to being a nurse to being a welder.
REHMWhy do they need college education to fix an airplane engine?
WYNERIt's a great question, Diane. It used to be 50 years ago that somebody with a wrench could fix a car engine. Today, they are all computer driven. You need significant technical skills in computer science in order to do the kind of work that once could be done with a wrench. So in a knowledge-based economy, it isn't just the people who are working on the huge super computers and the particle conductors that need technical knowledge. It's also the people who are fixing car engines. So we need higher education today in a technology-base knowledge-based economy to do most jobs that pay good wages with benefits.
REHMNow let me ask you this. One of our earlier emailers wanted to know if the degree, if the piece of paper is simply used in a competitive fashion as the hiring progresses. What do you think, Barmak?
NASSIRIANI am not a labor economist, but it's certainly my impression that employers have, in many cases, arbitrarily become more demanding because they could. So, I mean, there is an issue here in terms of the amount of higher ed that we're consuming as a nation.
REHMBarmak Nassirian. He's with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. We'll take a short break here and more of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about higher education, whether it is, in fact, equipping young people or even older adults for the workplace. Barmak, I want to go to you and ask you, what are, in your view, the most serious issues that need to be addressed as far as the for-profit schools.
NASSIRIANIn Canada, we have the adoption of consumer fraud as a business model. I mean, there is heavy advertising. In some cases, some of the publicly traded companies spend more on advertising than they do on instruction, which is shocking. There is all kinds of heavy sales tactics, misrepresentation on the front end.
REHMMisrepresentation of what sort?
NASSIRIANOf outcomes of why you should enroll. I mean, it's just very heavy handed, extremely misleading in many instances. It's been very widely documented in terms of just outright fraud. And the outcomes speak for themselves. The outcomes are higher unemployment, lower wages. We had a proposal from the administration last year. I mean, this will come as a total stunner to your listeners. As modest as maybe, maybe, maybe perhaps a third of your borrowers ought to be able to cover interest on their loans. Not repay for heaven sake, but just cover interest.
NASSIRIANAnd the industry declared holy war on that proposal because they saw it as an existential threat. So in many ways what we have with the for-profits, like, this isn't to say there are not some for-profits that are decent, there are, but in general this sector is beginning to remind me of the go-go days of subprime mortgage lending. Housing is a good thing, unless you're gonna be put, you know, under a roof with unattainable terms and conditions.
ROSENYeah, I mean, it's such a broad set of statements that it's almost breathtaking. And it just happens to be, you know, taking anecdote and turning it into fact. And so let's go back to, you know, fact for a moment. There are 3 million students who are attending for-profit schools. And I know that it may be that some people could believe that that just happens, but the truth is, this is a very studied and considered step that students take to change their lives.
ROSENAnd I wanna give you an example 'cause there's been talk about outcomes. And Barmak earlier said that 60 percent of students graduate. But among a riskier population of students, students who have a couple of what the Department of Education calls risk factors that they won't graduate, two or more risk factors, only 17 percent of students in America graduate. So if a student is more than 25 years old and has a child or is working full-time or is a single parent, they have a one and six chance of graduating. At Kaplan University, that same student has a 32 percent chance of graduating. Now, we can't go around bragging about a 32 percent graduation rate for that...
REHMI'm trying to remember my aliquot parts, one in six or 32 percent.
ROSENYeah, so 17 percent versus 32 percent. The fact is, if all of American higher education had Kaplan's graduation rates, we'd have 800,000 more graduates a year. Now, you may remember that Josh earlier said we need 8 million more graduates. That actually over the next ten years would achieve that set of outcomes. It's -- and by the way, it would do it at a taxpayer cost of $41 billion a year less. And at Kaplan, and this is probably more that we can go into for this show, but we measure the learning very carefully.
ROSENAnd we can demonstrate that students are actually learning and getting into jobs.
REHMLet me read this email from Jay, who says, and I'd like your feedback especially from you, Claudia and Josh, "Congress does not want an educated populous or they would provide low interest or free loans to everyone, period. My son," she says or he says, "My son could only get a load cosigned by a parent at 9.9 flexible rate with no ceiling to how high the rate could go. He did not qualify for a cheaper loan. He nor I can afford such loans, $15,000 in loans for a Missouri state college for his freshman year alone. Banks can get money for an interest rate next to nothing, but our children cannot get a cheap decent loan, even though the loan cannot be wiped out by bankruptcy. One can no longer get a default on a college loan." Josh.
WYNERWell, I think the listener is raising a really important point, which is that college has to be affordable. Andy talked earlier about the taxpayer subsidy of $7,000 for community colleges. Well, we're paying $10,000 a year on average for K-12 education. And nobody is saying that people ought to start paying tuition for public education in the K-12 system. Remember, today you need a college degree to enter the middle class. And we as a society need to be willing to invest in a college degree for people.
WYNERStates in the current economic downturn have been disinvesting disproportionately in community colleges, which from our perspective makes no sense. So part of what we absolutely need is to maintain -- by the way, Congress right now is considering cutting back recent increases to the Pell Grant program. Those levels of effort need to be maintained at the state and federal level. But I wanna raise one other thing, which is colleges have responsibility here too. They need to be productive with the dollars they are getting.
WYNERAnd when we look at excellent colleges, they're figuring out how to keep the sections of classes open, even though the dollars that they're getting from the state and federal government are decreasing. So colleges have to play a role too, but, absolutely, we need to make sure that college is affordable and that the resources are available for individuals to access it.
GOLDINI certainly agree to the extent that community colleges serve a large number of functions and we should have more support for community colleges. On the other hand -- and I also agree that we should have capital markets be much better in terms of providing loans. On the other hand, if the education is very vocational, very structured very much in terms of the for-profit model, then, in fact, the individuals should be investing in terms of their own money should be borrowing.
GOLDINYes, high interest rates are not very good. We should have lower interest rates. But the public, in some sense, should not be paying for this education. This is something that individuals who are investing in themselves and they should be getting a high return for it. If they're not, then they shouldn't be going to that particular school.
REHMAll right. To Durham, N.C. Good morning, Barbara.
BARBARAGood morning, Ms. Rehm. Thank you for taking my call.
BARBARAI apologize for my voice. I just wanna make a comment and then I'll hang up and hopefully your guests will comment on mine. I've been a public school teacher for the last 40 years and have seen the attitude and the desire to learn decline significantly over that time. I'm talking at the high school level, the junior college level and in military school. And I appreciate all of the commentary and the concern about funding and finance. However, if an individual does not have the desire to learn, it doesn't matter how much money you spend trying to make a neat wonderful learning environment or the hire the best teachers.
BARBARAIf the student doesn't wanna learn, they won't. And I have those kids that came to the junior college level that couldn't do basic math. And they decided after they graduated high school, oops, I need to get a job. And because they hadn't paid attention and didn't want to pay attention, weren't motivated, self motivated, their family weren't motivating them to learn, they didn't. So I think what we have not done is had a look at what needs to be done starting with the family in the middle school and elementary school and the emphasis on education that we do not have in America like they do in some particularly far eastern countries.
REHMAll right, Barbara. Thanks for your comments. And by the way, you don't ever have to apologize to me about voice. Here's an email from Tim that follows up on your point. He says, "I'm a professor at Penn State University. I'd like to hear discussion of the students' role and lack of preparation and failing to graduate. While I've had many students who work very hard, increasingly I'm seeing more and more students who put very little effort into their own educations and expect to be passed along just for sometimes showing up. Please discuss how the culture fostered by our K through 12 system and helicopter parenting has played a role in the students' lack of responsibility for their own education." Barmark.
NASSIRIANThere certainly is a cultural component here. Education is a very peculiar kind of transaction, if you think of it as a purchase, particularly as many parents now are shelling out 50,000 a year. It turns out on like a car you don't get what you paid for unless the student engages, unless the student also does his or her part. One of the luxuries we -- and I think Andy Rosen's book addresses this. One of the luxuries we ought to put on the table is the flexibility, the choice we have in this country that we've taken for granted, that you can start as a physics major, switch to art history. It may take you six years to finish, but that's the price of discovering yourself. And that's perfectly fine, nothing wrong with it.
NASSIRIANWe are now competing against a European higher education system that has standardized on a three year, what they call, Bologna process baccalaureate degree. So what we theoretically produce in four years, they produce in three. Now, they do happen to have a very functional secondary school system and, guess what, you don't get the kinda flexibility and the kinda choice you get, the kinds of second chances and third chances we give people in Europe.
REHMLet me ask a question that certainly many of our listeners raise. Is a four year college education in liberal arts going to help students find a job...
GOLDINYes. Okay. Let me give you an example. First of all, technical change is the backbone of economic growth. In periods of technological change and periods of fast technological change, the returns to education are the highest. We cannot predict what jobs are going to be in demand in the future. 20 years ago, if you would've said there are going to be these things called web designers, someone would have said, what are you talking about? They're spiders. So we have no idea what's out there.
GOLDINAnd the best type of education is an education that enables the student to ask the right questions, not to give them an answer to a question. Not to give them a Phillips screwdriver when, in fact, they'll need something else in the future. And a broad education, something that we call a liberal arts education is in many ways the best flexible education. That isn't to say that we don't need vocational training as well, but we also need something that gives people some flexibility for a future that is unknown.
REHMClaudia Goldin, she's economic historian, labor economist and professor of economics at Harvard University. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Janet in Baltimore. "I am repelled," she says, "by the panelists insinuation that only those who work with information can have good, fulfilling careers. Since when is honest work with your hands dishonorable? I'm a hairdresser and a darn good one. Nobody can ship my work overseas." That's from Janet in Baltimore. Do you wanna comment, Barmak?
NASSIRIANI agree with her. It's not a question of whether it's manual as opposed to intellectual labor. It's a question of whether it's skilled labor versus unskilled. You know, I wouldn't trust what little hair I have left to somebody who didn't have adequate training. She didn't become a hairdresser on her own. She had to have extensive training and that's what we're talking about.
REHMAll right. To San Diego, Calif. Good morning, Rick. You're on the air. Rick?
REHMYes, good morning.
RICKThanks for taking my call. So briefly earlier you made the question about the cost of higher education and the online world. And I think the reality if you go and do a little research, you'll find that it can cost upwards of 10 or $15,000 a year in the major players. And, you know, one of your speakers made the comment that there is outright fraud in advertising. I'm not sure I would go that far. I worked in the industry. I don't believe that it's quite as bad.
RICKBut, for me, the larger issue is not what has online higher ed done or not done. For me the sad part is the potential of what online education could have done. For example, in traditional education you have the additional burden of the cost of books. Books are very expensive. And in the online world, they have standardized on curriculum and the advantages of that are that you get on average better curriculum through better -- a better corpus of learning materials.
RICKYour textbooks, e-books, your learning curriculum is generally better because of the standardization. The tragedy I think is that the online higher ed world hasn't really let innovation take hold to drive the cost down. It's possible that you could get a fantastic online education taking advantage of great social metaphors. I mean, imagine the best of online higher ed, you know, the Stanford sort of modalities, with the Facebook kind of social capabilities.
REHMAll right. Andy.
ROSENYeah, I agree with almost everything that the listener says, except his use of the past tense. Online higher education is in its infancy. And it is gonna evolve over the course of the next decade in a way that we can't even imagine, just as almost everything else online has changed. And, in fact, I think he's completely right that in the future we're gonna be able to deliver a mobile education to whatever device you happen to be using at the time in a way that enables you to pay for the education and not for all of the experience and for the, you know, the French bistros and so on, on your campus. Now, some students will always want that, but the students who want to buy just the education will be able to do it, and online education will permit that.
REHMAnd the hope is that those who want the education are going to be able to pay for it and that a job will be the outcome. Thank you all so much. Andrew Rosen, he's the author of "Change.edu: Rebooting for the New Talent Economy." Josh Wyner is at the Aspen Institute. Barmak Nassirian is with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. And Claudia Goldin is professor of economics at Harvard University. Thank you all.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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