Worst Returns on Investment in College

Derek Thompson in the Atlantic posts data from Payscale about schools with the worst returns on investments.

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When my sister graduated from Georgetown, the school published data on the previous year’s graduates, including their majors and salaries. The biggest winner? Art History! What? Who knew? Well, the Art History majors were the highest paid among all the graduates of Georgetown, because there were only five Art History majors, and one of them was Patrick Ewing, who wasn’t spending his time as a docent at an art museum.

That said, I think we can still talk about this chart. Education majors have gotten nailed, because schools have over produced teachers. We have waaaayyyy more education graduates than openings for teachers, especially in major metropolitan areas. The aides in my son’s special education class (minimum wage, part-time, no benefits) are all right out of college and all have teaching degrees.

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45 thoughts on “Worst Returns on Investment in College

  1. Education majors have gotten nailed, because schools have over produced teachers.

    Yes. If Bowling Green on in-state tuition (the bolded one) produces negative returns, what they are saying is that becoming a teacher in Ohio doesn’t pay anymore. It isn’t like there’s a cheaper way to get the teaching degree.

    (The other take home point would be, don’t pay out of state tuition to become a teacher.)

    1. “…what they are saying is that becoming a teacher in Ohio doesn’t pay anymore.”

      I expect that becoming a teacher in Ohio does pay–it’s studying to be a teacher that doesn’t.

  2. I would have said we (as a society, not me personally, though I do wish I knew what we paid the teachers at my kids’ school to be more confident of my disavowal of responsibility) are underpaying and undermining teaching as a profession.

    I think the Patrick Ewing statistic is funny.

  3. Weird because there is no “University of Wisconsin.” There are, IIRC, ~26 such entities. UW Madison I would expect to have very different stats than UW Milwaukee or UW Eau Claire.

    How can anyone contemplating an education major these days be unaware of the glut of teachers?!

    1. Because 17yo (and their parents, who are stuck in another era) are dreadful at predicting labor markets (along with practically everyone else) and because many people are trying very hard to minimize risks in a risk-heavy world. They are stuck with the notion that getting a teaching job means a job with tenure, transferable skills, and consistent need. Teaching may not be that job any more, but neither is anything else (except, maybe, for another ten years or so, medicine).

      1. “Because 17yo (and their parents, who are stuck in another era) are dreadful at predicting labor markets (along with practically everyone else) and because many people are trying very hard to minimize risks in a risk-heavy world.”

        I was reading a thread elsewhere from someone who says that she’s a high school student and her mom is insisting that she become a doctor. Mom’s plan is to pay for daughter’s undergrad out of mom’s retirement and then daughter can pay her back out of her big, fat doctor bucks. Urk!

  4. I’m not convinced that an education major is the best way to prep to be a teacher – there’s not that much to training for it. I would far rather have an English major who had done okay in 3-5 ed courses teach my kids, than someone with an education major. I think that’s how my local system operates: do the minimum to get a certification, and come in with strong subject matter skills.

    1. I’m sympathetic to this idea for HS, especially my kiddos, who I suspect will function a lot like a college student.

      I think the experiment on whether this will work for other kids for whom the developmental expectations are much different, and for younger kids is very much an open one.

      Also, teaching is under-compensated, low prestige, and stressful. The education degree and certification undoubtedly served (not sure if they do anymore, but, maybe they still do for those already in the field) as a form of guild/professional protection. Take that away, and I’m guessing the people who will be attracted to the profession on a more than temporary basis will not be those hypothetical high quality English majors.

      Now, if you also think that English majors, with 3-5 teaching classes, and no teaching experience, teaching kids on a revolving basis of 2 year stints will provide a better education for your kids, you might be able to find that. You should try it and see what you think. In our school, I’m firmly convinced that teachers with less than 3-5 years experience, even ones who I think will grow into strong teachers, are not as good as the more experienced teachers.

      1. But it’s not the teaching classes that make a teacher–it’s the actual teaching experience itself. You get some of that as an education student (which is where much of the value of the actual degree lies), but not nearly enough.

  5. The article on the most valuable colleges/majors is interesting: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/03/which-college-and-which-major-will-make-you-richest/359628/.

    9 of the 10 “most valuable degrees in America” are in…. Computer Science.

    Which, I venture to say, probably skews such rating tables. Most Arts majors don’t want to major in Computer Science. Most likely, only a few people in the population possess the talents and skills to do well in Computer Science. Even in the top colleges, it is hard to ramp up department size, due to a lack of professors. (I gather from reading college newspapers online.)

    It would be better to compare universities by major.

    1. We were discussing the “most valuable degrees” article yesterday, and the absurdity of using an exact 20-year comparison as a proxy for general degree ROI.

      Yes, if you graduated with a CS degree in 1994, you did very well indeed. However, when you matriculated in 1990 and chose your CS major, you were staring at a crashed market with a glut of programmers, and were the leading edge of a drought in CS graduates that persisted for years. See this graph of 30-year degree rates.

      Not only do 18-year-olds not have the savvy to navigate this kind of thing, but following the advice from articles like these (or the faddish “Plastics!” advice from their adult mentors) can actually be counter-productive. In 1992, I was told by adult engineers I respected that my decision to major in CS meant I’d never, ever find work, while at graduation the market was so hot that I benefited from bidding wars over college hires. The freshmen in the swollen CS classes I walked by my senior year graduated in 2001, directly into the dot-com bust. In 2004, my then-employer was ramping up college hiring, so I gather that CS grad in 2005 were doing very well despite the apocalyptic state of the job market when they chose their majors.

      I wonder what a 20-year comparison of CS degree ROI would show if the range were 1982-2002, or 1988-2008? I suspect the results would be very different.

      1. Yes, and both of these explanations are a reason for the continued popularity of the teacher-track. Folks hope that we’ll always need teachers, and the people who are interested in teaching (lots of human contact, with turbulent tempers, and even snotty noses, and kids who want to hang to each of your fingers, because they all want to hold hands with the teacher) are less likely to be the CS mindset.

        Comparing within majors across universities might be itneresting, but it might uncover glitches (like Patrick Ewing going to GT and majoring in art, or a small group of interns with a specialty being hired out of Harvey Mudd, or all the top engineers heading off to grad school or to a startup, with low pay, but ownership interest). A lot depends on how many majors are being graduated and the details.

  6. Why are some of the schools listed twice? (Virginia Commonwealth has education at -107 and -169, Bowling green has education at -120 and -152, Murray state has Arts listed twice). Is one undergrad and the other graduate?

  7. Part of it too is the math, alluded to by MH (look at you, alluding and all). Of course computer science will have a better ROI since on average, the salaries will be much higher than in social work or teach or the arts/humanities. The numerator will be much larger.

    I’m curious about how costs are allocated between the silos at a university. There’s a certain amount of fixed costs to having a department no matter what the field of study. If a particular field is something that we value AND it will always have a lower ROI because of a combination of high fixed costs (the denominator) and a lower salary after school (numerator), is that less “valuable” than a field with a higher ROI?

    In other words, a lower ROI might mean a lower demand/over supply for that particular profession or it might mean partly that it’s just a field that will always be lower paid but not necessarily less valuable to you and me and society and our community.

    1. I see lots of debates going on. Texas actually did a departmental calculation of revenue/profit. Some odd departments came up, like physics, which, in general, doesn’t attract as many students with tuition paying dollars as fields like English, and, in those particular departments, also wasn’t pulling in grant dollars sufficient to compensate for it’s fewer numbers of classes/students.

      Some schools are talking about charging differential tuition for majors that are more highly compensated.

      1. Long debate about that, I’d think. Just because graduates in certain majors earn higher salaries after graduation doesn’t mean _all_ graduates in those majors are highly compensated.

        Teaching may not pay well “on average,” but that likely includes grads who don’t secure employment as a teacher. Teaching also starts at the low end, but (in our state) ramps up significantly. Add in benefits and pension, and long-serving teachers who are department heads or coaches earn tidy wages.

        The calculation of the return on majors might push colleges to tighten up admission standards for certain majors. If universities used the median SAT & GPA of education majors _who secured employment as teachers, and were employed as teachers 5 years later_ as the standard for admission to the education major, I predict the “return on investment” for a teaching degree at those colleges would skyrocket.

      2. I think that’d be great if they could swing it in a way that was fair (and I know that’s so relative). The higher paid professions are also able to donate more to their alma mater. Perhaps there’s a way that some (not all of course) of that could be taken into account when funds are allocated between departments/schools within a university. Again, should the lower paid professions be penalized because their graduates will not have the same donation power either.

      3. Yes Cranberry – there’s something in the middle that would take into account the demand for that particular profession as well as the ROI. In other words, using only ROI as the measure of a department’s worth is not fine-tuned enough.

      4. There’s a joke about that that I’m going to tell badly.

        A provost is talking to a physics professor, and wanting to know why their department is so expensive. “You guys need all this expensive equipment! Why can’t you be like the math department–they only need paper and wastebaskets! Or like the philosophy department–they only need paper!”

        By the way, it’s totally true about the math and wastebaskets. When my husband and I were newlyweds and he was still doing a little math, he could work all day and use up reams of paper–and have nothing at all to show for it.

  8. A review of the Payscale database, on which this analysis is based, points out a couple of confounds — first, that people with graduate degrees are excluded from the sample and second that the earnings are skewed to early year earnings. Also, though not pointed out in that article, I’d guess that different professions have different likelihood of long term employment (though I don’t know how this will play out in practice).

    I have to wonder if the education major statistic is significantly skewed by masters degrees — don’t many teachers usually earn masters, especially by the time their income increases?

    Another example of a not very good article with numbers that make people click and share.

    1. bj said:

      “A review of the Payscale database, on which this analysis is based, points out a couple of confounds — first, that people with graduate degrees are excluded from the sample and second that the earnings are skewed to early year earnings.”

      Well, throw that chart out the window, then. Just about anybody who lands a teaching job immediately starts thinking about doing their MA (and many are required to to keep the job). Plus, teaching has almost all of the salary goodies backloaded to later years. It’s quite different in, let’s say, computer engineering. If you are a 50-year old teacher, you’re in the prime of your career, while if you’re a 50-year-old computer engineer, it’s very likely that you’re either unemployed or about to be unemployed.

  9. “while if you’re a 50-year-old computer engineer, it’s very likely that you’re either unemployed or about to be unemployed”

    I thought about saying that, but it’s not true. It is hard for 50yo computer engineers to find jobs, but the ones I know are fairly safely ensconced in the jobs they actually have at 50. But, ’tis true that unlike the 50 year old teacher, they do not have tenure and they can be laid off, without much trouble. And, I might be looking at an outlier sample.

  10. The 50+ y.o. computer engineers we know are either employed, long-term, in their jobs, or consultants, or have started their own companies. Some change tracks, to go into teaching or minding databases. Some of our friends have had a series of jobs, but…they always find another. I think one decided to become a patent lawyer.

    Consulting can (apparently) be lucrative, and in that case, you’re not working for an employer. You’re working for a client, temporarily.

    The computer engineers who are really successful have certain temperaments, which are comfortable with risk-taking, i.e., the serial entrepreneurs. In many ways, such entrepreneurs are the opposite of teachers, because they put themselves into situations in which they think about money _all the time_, but those situations are kind of time-limited from the outset. Sale or closure of the company within a predetermined time frame, for example.

    I’ve written this before on this blog, but really: Computer skills are valuable. A friend who’s currently a consultant estimated his son’s hourly salary as a new employee of a computer consulting firm. It was eye-opening. Something like $50 to $70 an hour, I think? (I could be under-remembering.) And this kid minored in CS, not a major.

    1. “And this kid minored in CS, not a major.”

      Cool. I’ll have to talk to the big kids about the possibility of doing a CS minor. I’ve always made a point of telling them about daddy’s programming royalty checks ($300 here, $400 there, $800 a month for a while a few years back) and what a good thing it would be for them to do the same thing, even just on the side. I am a big believer in the desirability of multiple income streams, even if they’re small.

      I’m really leery about the current STEM push, because I know the history is really bad for engineers–pretty much every field has a pattern of boom and bust. One of the in-laws is a chemical engineer who got laid off recently (probably around 60),. I think it was a huge blow, financial and otherwise.

      1. Quite a few of the people I work with in the tech side of finance do not have CS degrees, including me. I was a women’s studies major. What I do now didn’t exist 26 years ago when I graduated.

      2. Lots of people in software companies don’t have CS degrees either, and in some cases they don’t have college degrees at all. A CS degree 1) gets you in the door to your first tech job, and 2) drills some rigorous theory which helps you cope with changing technology over your career.

        There are plenty of other ways to solve #1 — I’m particularly impressed with the Maker Square program here for adults looking to change into a tech career, but college minors, software-intensive university work or research experience, or certain military backgrounds can accomplish the same thing.

        #2 can’t really be replaced, but there are plenty of different capabilities not taught in a CS program which help people excel in tech careers, like communication and analysis. Any team of sufficient complexity will have specialized roles in which one senior person focuses on complex architectural issues, another senior person focuses on customer needs or project management, while a handful of junior developers do the majority of the programming. (Note that the two senior people will still program, but their code is not the main value they’re adding to the team.)

        Like Amy, I’m leery about the STEM push but for different reasons. Most of the focus seems to be on K-12 education, but where will those technically-capable, pedagogically informed, dynamic teachers come from? As bj points out, the intersection of personalities drawn to teaching and drawn to software engineering may be quite small, and the number of professional developers willing to turn down $50-$70h salaries for teacher’s wages makes the Venn diagram even more discouraging. As a result, I worry that we’ll end up pushing more teachers from existing fields into teaching CS subjects they’re unqualified for and unenthusiastic about. While I believe that there is a large group of people (particularly among women and minorities) who would thrive in software careers given the right instruction and encouragement, I don’t think that such teachers are going to answer that need. I could be wrong–perhaps there are a lot of potentially-amazing CS teachers in the school system who are being unnecessarily thwarted, and I certainly know of some good high school CS teachers–but I suspect that trading effective teaching in subject X for poor teaching in CS will not prepare students for STEM careers.

        (Unless subject X is cursive, in which case I say good riddance!)

      3. Yes, my brother has been working high paying jobs in CS-related fields since before high school. He paid for most of a 4 year degree at an expensive SLAC by working as a programmer at a high tech firm during summers. He was neither a CS major nor minor. He says that a CS degrees are only worth what they teach you in skills, since the high tech industry cares very little about credentialing. FWIW my brother’s CS skills are entirely self-taught. He bought a book and learned C++ at age 11 when we got our first computer, and just went from there.

  11. I’ve seriously been following you for years and don’t think I’ve EVER commented. BUT I feel super compelled… Murray State is my undergrad! So crazy.

    It’s a very rural Kentucky public school, that I would actually call a great value. THAT said, I would never advise anyone on the planet ever to get an arts degree from a Western Kentucky college. That school is great for what it is… training people from the region in a very practical way for the job market in that region. People in western Kentucky, west Tennessee, southeast Missouri (that region is kind of unto itself and tends to ID as the “Jackson Purchase” region rather than by the individual states) very rarely leave the region, and the only way you’d ever be able to use an arts degree is to go somewhere else.

    I guess I should be glad I majored in print journalism there… despite having the great timing of graduating the same year the first web browser was developed. #soclever

  12. Yay! Thanks for commenting, Kristie!

    Kristie’s comment really shows the limits of quantitative research. It sounds like Murray State is a great value for particular majors with regional ambitions, but not so much for people with other interests and national ambitions. But I guess that’s too much subtlety for an Internet article. Le Sigh.

  13. LA Times today, article by a young woman who on her parents’ advice left Trader Joe’s, got a degree, now cannot get back on with Trader Joe’s, and is working as a nanny: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-koss-underemployment-millennials-20140330,0,7464135.story

    A lot of the for-profits and 3rd-tier state schools end up functioning to enrich their staff while the students lose four or five years of wages and take on debt they can never repay. Hell, second-tier state schools and some of the nonprofit privates – Chico State, I am looking at YOU – end up doing that to their students. I believe in education for citizenship and enrichment, but I am not convinced that that is provided by a business or womyn studies or turfgrass management degree from Directional State.

  14. And Furthermore! Walter Russell Mead goes after Paying for the Party, which I am now reading.

    http://www.the-american-interest.com/blog/2014/03/29/how-the-college-party-culture-increases-inequality/

    The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking. So the class inequalities at entry are exacerbated by the process.

    The book is kind of jargon-y, but they are onto something. And it meshes with Patrick Ewings’ Art History major wonderfully.

  15. I don’t comment often, either (maybe twice in all the years I’ve been reading) but this one irks me. VCU is in my town. You cannot major in Education there as an undergrad. There is a program, but you have to have an academic major in Virginia if you want to get certified to teach. So who did they survey? What are they measuring? The data seems really suspect. Never mind that I find the whole premise deeply offensive…which, of course, I would, as I’m an English professor. I realize that people need jobs, but I still dispute the premise that the purpose of college is to increase your earning power. Still, if that is your premise, you should not fudge your data.

    1. Libby said:

      “I realize that people need jobs, but I still dispute the premise that the purpose of college is to increase your earning power.”

      If that weren’t the implicit promise, only a handful of people would be paying for it.

      If college is only to enrich and enlighten one’s soul, not one’s bank account, then maybe that needs to go on a surgeon general’s warning on all the brochures and websites?: THIS COLLEGE EXPERIENCE WILL BRING SPIRITUAL AND INTELLECTUAL ENRICHMENT TO THOSE WHO WORK HARD AT SPIRITUALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY ENRICHING THEMSELVES. IT IS NOT A SURE FIRE MONEY-MAKING SCHEME.

  16. “.. I still dispute the premise that the purpose of college is to increase your earning power..” Well, yes and no. Reader’s Digest in the fifties, and American middlebrow culture in general, was full of go to college and you will succeed. This was the pitch Emily Koss reports from her parents, in the LA Times op-ed above, as they frog-marched her out of Trader Joe’s and towards college. We are careening towards college in our house, and we want our kids to be confident and educated citizens, not susceptible to transparent demagogues, and who have agency in their lives and who know that they have it. We think the right college experience can help them on their way. We also want them to be able to earn good livings, and are worried looking forward because it seems there are fewer well-trodden paths to the upper middle class than there used to be.

    I think college grew hugely in family aspirations in very large part because we all saw college men (and women!) doing better than non-college-educated in the aftermath of WWII. The GI Bill turned out to be an enormous generator of good careers. More recently Suze Orman has been parading around stages making large money and claiming ‘college debt is good debt!’ So going to college has been kind of overdetermined – the idea is it remakes you into a better class of people, AND you make money. How good does it get? And this happened for a lot of people who were children of families in the lower income quintiles, so it was democratizing!

    And then because of the huge allure of College, a number of things which it’s not clear to me need to be the subject of college got swept in: bookkeeping. turfgrass management. Chico offers a four year degree in Cement Industry Management. College was the answer to all things. If turfgrass management is not working out for you, have you learned to write a coherent proposal for something else? Didn’t think so. So now you see a lot of kids who went to college, did mediocre work, and they can’t get anything and they have tens of thousands of debt. If they majored in beer pong they didn’t get much culture, either.

    A nephew of mine did these things separately – went to a pretty swell Eastern liberal arts college, not HYPS but a lot of his fellow students had made the HYPS wait lists. Astronomy. Lots of culture, writes well. Astronomy is like English, one of those fields where many are called and few are chosen. So he got himself a certificate in geographic information systems. Got a job in a start up, got recruited away by one big and famous firm and recruited away from them by another. Met his wife at the SLAC, they have bought a house and have couple kids. He is launched. He has well-informed opinions about politics and current museum exhibits. If he’s not out-earning everyone in the parental generation yet, he will be soon. And in addition to marriage and culture, the SLAC probably gave the people who hired him confidence that he could use the skills he’d gotten in the certificate program. So, for him, I think college was a terrific deal.

    He went in upper-middle-class, and he came out upper-middle-class. He duplicated his family’s circumstances. The really upsetting thing about Paying for the Party (and I’m still plowing through it ) is the suggestion that many lower-middle- and lower-class students kind of get suckered, think they are going to be able to raise their game and are not, and end up with huge debts, losing a number of years of income.

    1. dave s. said:

      “I think college grew hugely in family aspirations in very large part because we all saw college men (and women!) doing better than non-college-educated in the aftermath of WWII. The GI Bill turned out to be an enormous generator of good careers. More recently Suze Orman has been parading around stages making large money and claiming ‘college debt is good debt!’ So going to college has been kind of overdetermined – the idea is it remakes you into a better class of people, AND you make money. How good does it get? And this happened for a lot of people who were children of families in the lower income quintiles, so it was democratizing!”

      I think one idea that has got to be stamped out vigorously is the idea that college is some sort of conveyor belt to success, so all you have to do is land on the conveyor belt, and 4 years later you emerge a highly employable member of society. That may sound like a very naive vision of college, but I think it’s actually very common. Even Laura often seems to be assuming the conveyor belt paradigm, for instance in previous discussion of “high quality training.” A student is not a block of wood to be passively carved into a particular shape by the college or training program–there has to be active engagement with the process. You have to show up and do the work and you get no more out of it than you put into it.

      Beyond that, of course, there has to be a reasonable choice of academic program and reasonable spending based on reasonable expectations of future earnings.

  17. About CS teachers: as someone who is one without a CS degree, but with industry experience, I think the worry about qualified teachers is real. CS majors right now can make 2-3 times as much right out of the gate. Often CS majors don’t have the education credits or experience to teach. The demand for CS teachers is not high because most states don’t count CS toward graduation, so it’s an elective and most schools will only offer enough courses to have a part-time teacher at best, so they’ll have the “Tech teacher” teach the courses or the math or science teacher. Now some of those are qualified, but some aren’t and end up learning on the job. I would personally like to see alternative ways to qualify those teachers. There are some great online programs, but most of them go only through the first couple of years of CS, and most don’t cover the kinds of things that many teachers want to expose their students to, like app programming or physical computing. And things change so fast, most teachers find themselves learning something new every year. I’ve spent every summer for the last five years either enrolled in a course or learning some new technology on my own.

    Whether the investment in CS at the K-12 pays off we won’t know for a while, but it’s clear that *every* profession benefits from knowing something about CS. Doctors, lawyers, researchers in most fields, CEOs, government workers all need to use computing to analyze data, crunch numbers, etc. While some tools exist to do those for them, many don’t and understanding something about how that computation works and what it can and can’t tell you about something is important to understand. Just as we don’t expect every student who takes a full four courses of math or science to become mathematicians or scientists, we believe those subjects are important enough for every student to learn that they’re required for graduation, often at the college level as well. It’s about understanding the world around you and not being beholden to experts to tell you everything. I could go on about the ignorance of our elected officials passing laws about the internet, telecom, etc. that show no understanding about computing and that benefit big companies and not citizens. A little more understanding might make them take a different stance, and might make regular people stand up for something different.

    /rant

    1. geekymom said,

      “The demand for CS teachers is not high because most states don’t count CS toward graduation, so it’s an elective and most schools will only offer enough courses to have a part-time teacher at best, so they’ll have the “Tech teacher” teach the courses or the math or science teacher.”

      My husband has done pretty well at hobby programming with just the background of an 11th grade electronics course back in the 1980s and an interest in tinkering. Every time he gets a new piece of electronics, he works it over and figures out new tricks he wants it to be able to do. People who are good at this sort of thing often don’t need a lot of hand-holding.

      “…ignorance of our elected officials passing laws about the internet, telecom, etc. that show no understanding about computing and that benefit big companies and not citizens.”

      Do you think it’s ignorance or malice? It could easily be malice.

  18. Yes to both Dave and AmyP, above. If you start out upper middle class, college can help you stay there. And yes, unfortunately (from my perspective), a degree has become a de facto entry-level requirement for all kinds of things it didn’t used to be necessary for. The equivalent of a HS degree in my day (early 80s) or earlier. So, yes, the implicit promise is that it will help you make money. But the fact is that very little that is done in class at SLACs or their ilk will actually do that–the networks one builds, the summer jobs, the internships, etc. are the real key. And in some cases the BA or BS is of course the prerequisite for the graduate degree (Law, Medicine, etc) that really will impart specialized knowledge.

    This is not to say that what happens in the classroom is not valuable, just that it doesn’t put you on a conveyor belt (nice metaphor!) to career success. In fact it can be quite the reverse. If I do my job right, I may make you think too critically about language and the economy for you really to want to work in PR or advertising and you’ll go off and be an environmental journalist for no money instead. To me that’s still a win for the world, but it’s not going to look good on the above scorecard, for sure.

    1. I think an a la carte approach is a very good idea for a large number of students. Students can come back and take a course or two on an as needed basis and cash flow it. (I think the a la carte approach is particularly good for entrepreneurial students who have a business idea, but need to know a little bit about computers and a little bit about bookkeeping and a little bit about marketing–three decent courses, and they’re good to go.)

      I think there is a big problem with thinking that the education you get from 18-22 is going to keep you going for the next 50 years. That’s a major reason why it isn’t realistic to expect students to spend big bucks just for their undergraduate–they can’t pay for that AND whatever professional degree they do later on AND whatever retraining they decide to do at some later point. Personally speaking, when I was 16-22 or so, I was very passionate about Russian stuff, and I hoped to do that my whole life. A little graduate school and motherhood cooled my ardor for the subject, and now, heading into middle age, when/if I go back to work, it will almost certainly be something connected to personal finance and/or taxes. 18-year-old me would not have predicted that. 18-year-old me would have thought that incredibly boring.

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