Is it Worth Getting a Degree? Not Really.

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  • 08/21/2022

Between corrupt admission scandals and MAGA hat assaults, it’s no secret the reputation of America’s universities is suffering.

Confidence in our institutions of higher learning is currently in an unprecedented free fall, with the percentage of adults satisfied in them dropping nine points in the past few years. Among Republicans, the slide is even more precipitous.

While not long ago, in 2015, a sizable majority of Republicans expressed confidence at roughly the same level as the general public, by 2018 support had fallen a whopping 17 points to just 39 per cent.

Confidence in our institutions of higher learning is currently in an unprecedented free fall.

Despite this decline, we’re paying more for college attendance.

In 1985, the average cost for attendance at a public four-year university was around $8,500 a year in modern dollars. That’s a price tag that a part-time job could cover. Today, it’s almost $20,000, while the typical private school charges close to $40,000. Throw in textbooks and additional living expenses, and that adds up close to the median income for an entire household, well beyond the earning power of most 18 to 22 year olds.

This increase – well above inflation rates – has been fueled by a federal investment in student loans, primarily paid for by the two-thirds of Americans who do not have a four-year degree. Said investments were made without regard to the earning power of the degree sought.

The student loan market, unlike other common loans for cars or houses, is monopolized by government and not normal financial institutions seeking to ensure their own bottom lines. With private loans, a bank evaluates the risk by looking at factors like creditworthiness, income, and value of the asset that is being bought.

But because no one, except distant future taxpayers, depended on student loans being repaid, a common-sense investigation into the economic value of degrees in indigenous studies or art therapy in comparison to engineering or computer science was never conducted. Universities got their money, leftist radicals got their endless “studies” departments funded, and students got a lifetime of debt.

[caption id="attachment_176147" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Bloomberg Data chart details the increase in student loan debt above all other household loan debt in the United States.[/caption]

Conservatives have, at times, been too harsh on the millennial generation that has borne these costs, which have contributed to poor financial outlooks, delayed home purchases, and even fueled higher divorce rates.

College was sold to 18-year-olds as the sole route to success, and the federal government handed them thousands of dollars with no questions asked in exchange for their mere signatures. It’s a bit much to expect teenagers to be savvier about financial risk and debt than members of Congress, the latter of whom bear far more responsibility for the current loan fiscal mess.

Colleges have delivered a training camp for left-wing activists and an indebted generation.

If there’s a happy partner in our current college credentialing mania, it’s the universities themselves.

The government has underwritten their skyrocketing tuition costs, taken the lion’s share of the fiscal risk, and treated their billions in endowments as untouchable charity. Universities are naturally thrilled to accept enormous financial support from the American taxpayer, while paying no consequences for failing to hold up their end of the bargain.

For decades, the Republican Party, earning its “stupid party” nickname, has gone along with federal largesse to institutions that have been the ideological training grounds for their opposition since William F. Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale nearly 70 years ago.

For their noble investment against political interest, the university system promised us all wiser citizens and economic returns on investment. Instead, they’ve delivered a training camp for left-wing activists and an indebted generation.

It’s long past time to seriously re-examine whether higher education is worth the cost: for the student, the taxpayer, or the country.

Inez Feltscher Stepman is a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum. She has worked in education policy for seven years, and prior to joining IWF, was the Director of Education and Workforce Development at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Stepman is the author of numerous policy papers, including the annually-compiled Report Card on American Education. She also a senior contributor to The Federalist.