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College might still be "worth it" for most people. That doesn't mean it's a good value.

Mar 31, 2015

Credit Michelle / flickr

I have seen more than enough data to convince me that in order to move up the economic ladder, you should go to college

That doesn't mean I'm completely satisfied by this data. Because I'm not.

Many of us, including myself, know college graduates who started out on a pretty low-rung of that economic ladder. Now, they are saddled with student loans and still working low-wage jobs. Many of us know people who pinned their hopes of economic mobility on a degree, but haven't seen that degree translate into a better job, or maybe a job at all.

So while I believe there is value in higher education, I also think there must be so much more to learn about how this value shakes out. I have questions, like: What kind of college does one need to attend for a degree to pay off? I'd also like to know how much money one should spend on higher education before that cost-benefit analysis heads in the wrong direction.  

Thanks to Josipa Roska and Richard Arum, university professors and researchers, I'm closer to getting the answers to some of my questions. 

Roska and Arum wrote a book in which they look at what students are doing while they're in college; how they're learning, what activities they participate in, and what skills they're acquiring. They found that many students just aren't picking up the skills they need to be competitive in the workforce. While it may turn out that college helped these students in the long run, if what they wanted after graduation was a well-paying job, they may well be disappointed.

Two years after the class of 2009 finished college, this was the situation with the 1,000 students Roska and Arum followed:

"...Not surprisingly, approximately three quarters of graduates were receiving financial assistance from parents and a quarter were living with their families two years after completing college."

Yikes. 

So, I'm suggesting a State of Opportunity book club. I just found out about this book today, and I'm going to read it and learn more in the coming weeks. I'll report back on its lessons, and run some of this by some of our trusted sources in higher education. If you want to read along with me and send your questions or thoughts about what you've read, let me know. You can contact me at alvarez@michiganradio.org.