An education is a product, just like anything else on the market. People pay money and receive a service, which in this case is an education and a degree.
The price of an education — like many other things in this unstable economy — has risen. In fact, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education reported that college tuition and fees have increased
439 percent since 1982.
However, even with education’s hefty price tag, its quality is decreasing. Increases in cost may be necessary to make up for the budget cuts many states are inflicting on higher education — USF has lost $54 million in the past two years and will likely incur another loss after the state’s special session — but if universities want people to continue to apply and attend, they need to give students what they pay for.
Most USF students are familiar with crowded classrooms and a lack of course options. I thought that once I started to take upper-level classes specific to my majors, the number of students would decrease. However, I was sadly mistaken: This week I walked into my classes and saw as many students there as in the lower-level classes.
Meanwhile, a lack of funds means universities have less money to pay for instructors — hence the crammed classrooms — and can offer fewer sections of courses, delaying graduation for students who can’t get into required classes.
That’s just a small sampling of the problems students face. For some, this continual decline is too much. After all, as nice as it is to get a degree, many want to graduate with more than a piece of paper to show for it.
And, according to a study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, they may be receiving little more than that.
In 2006 and 2007, the institute surveyed people with degrees ranging from the high school to the doctoral level. College students were given a 60-question multiple-choice test on American history, economics, international relations and government. The students answered half of them correctly.
The institute gave a 33-question test on basic civic knowledge to a random sampling of 2,500 Americans. The score averaged 49 percent — nearly half, like that of the college students.
Even more interestingly, at some schools, like Yale in 2007, the seniors, on average, incorrectly answered three more questions than the freshmen. The institute calls this “negative learning”.
Despite those extra years and thousands of dollars spent striving toward a higher education — even at an Ivy League school — these students may not be much better off.
Knowledge is only one reason people go to college, though. Another is the ability to get a high-paying job.
According to U.S. Census data, in 2007 people with bachelor’s degrees earned 90 percent more than high school graduates. Just seven years ago, however, that number was 96 percent. As the bachelor’s degree becomes increasingly ubiquitous, that disparity could continue to decline, further making the diploma feel like little more than a piece of paper.
College graduates earn an average of $59,365 annually, compared with $33,609 for high school graduates. Though the average pay for people with bachelor’s degrees is still considerably higher than that for those with high school diplomas, one must consider the burden of student loans when factoring in the value of a college degree.
Sandy Baum, senior policy analyst for the College Board and an economics professor at Skidmore College, told the Chicago Tribune in October that if someone wished to become a nursery school teacher, he or she shouldn’t take out many loans.
“That’s the problem,” she said. “It’s an investment people make without knowing how they will pay it off.”
This goes back to the problem of receiving a decent education for the money one pays. With the pay gap between those possessing high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees decreasing and the cost of attending a university continually climbing, some feel that getting ahead is not worth the effort — or is too far from their reach.
Richard Brake, the director of University Stewardship of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, wrote that universities are “dumbing down” their curricula.
“With the right reading and conversational habits, it is possible to become a more knowledgeable, a more active and a wealthier citizen than the average person who invests tens of thousands of dollars in a college degree,” he said.
Sure, some people can make big bucks without a degree. However, those are few out of the millions in the work force.
Rather than getting discouraged about the worth of their degrees, students should demand more. Universities need to strengthen their commitments to education. They are institutions of higher learning, and they need to represent that — budget cuts or not.
Candace Kaw is a senior double majoring in mass communications and history.