The High Cost of College

How to decide whether a four-year degree is right for you.

high cost of college

In a post from May last year we pondered the question, should everyone go to college? And what might still be surprising to some, the answer was a resounding no. As eNotes editor and college professor Jamie described it then,

I believe anyone who wants an education should  pursue one. But I also see many incredibly gifted students who have skills that they are actively discouraged from mastering because they are supposed to have a Bachelor’s degree.  I see young people who have no real interest or desire to stay in school another four years who are miserable and many who are racking up debt when they could be doing something they enjoy, avoiding debt, and making money.

The prevailing opinion in America is that every student must go to college; if they don’t, they’ve somehow failed, or been failed by the system. Yet the cost of an American college education is among the highest in the world. So, if that college degree does you no favors in the job force, or if you drop out before completing your four years, you’re burdened with a mass of student debt to shoulder for the next twenty years.

That’s why it’s important to look at the costs of a college education, weighing out the pros and cons of each side and determining what’s right for you. If you plan to spend your life in academia, of course a university education is a necessity. But if you’d be better suited to a skilled trade, would the debt and time spent out of the workforce pay off? Here’s an excellent infographic from affordable-online-colleges.net to help you weigh your options. You might be surprised by what you find, like the high success rates of those who choose a two-year college over pursuing a Bachelor’s degree.

Read on and let us know your thoughts and questions!

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Happy Birthday, PBS!

pbs

On Sunday, November 3, PBS turned forty-four years old. Wow.   That’s a lot of numbers.  I’d have to count with this vintage piece from Sesame Street a bunch of times to count THAT high!

PBS’s mission, from the beginning, has been to “inform and inspire the diversity reflected in the American audience.”  Astonishingly, even with the plethora of choices in broadcasting today, 90% of households watch PBS annually.

There are many reasons to continue to love and support your local PBS station.  Its news programming has “been named the most trustworthy institution among nationally known organizations, for ten consecutive years.”

How about Masterpiece Theater, which just celebrated its fortieth birthday and is enjoying wild success with its hit show Downton Abbey?  Here’s a preview of Season 4, which premieres on December 17, 2013…

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Should Everyone Go to College? New Studies Suggest the Answer is… Probably Not

hats_air

I was listening to The Diane Rehm Show on my commute to go teach my classes this morning. Diane’s guests were Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institue, Nina Marks of Collegiate Directions Inc, and Robert Lerman, professor of economics at American University.

I wasn’t surprised that the answer to the question, “Should everyone go to college?” seemed to be a qualified no. I have been a community college professor for more than a decade.  Please don’t misunderstand. I believe anyone who wants an education should  pursue one. But I also see many incredibly gifted students who have skills that they are actively discouraged from mastering because they are supposed to have a Bachelor’s degree.  I see young people who have no real interest or desire to stay in school another four years who are miserable and many who are racking up debt when they could be doing something they enjoy, avoiding debt, and making money.

The reasons many students embark on a college career is that society expects them to do so. High schools now are heavily invested in Advanced Placement classes; this push to be “college ready” actually begins in middle school, where Pre-AP classes are not the exception, but the rule. Gone, for the most part, are offerings that used to be alternatives in high school electives, like shop classes. One of Diane’s guests remarked that kids go to college because they have no idea what else to do. They know simply having a high school diploma is not enough so they enroll in community colleges or universities, with no clear idea why or what they truly want to do with their lives.

Of course, not being sure about one’s career path in their late teens or early 20s is not unusual, but some students never settle on a true choice and a fair percentage drop out by their junior year. Now they have little to show for their efforts (“some college” doesn’t say much to a potential employer) and most have debt to boot. Ironically, trades in this country, like welders, mechanics, and plumbers, are sorely lacking skilled people yet we continue to insist that everyone go to college.

So why do so many still go? Statistics like this are indeed compelling:

avg_ba

Well, because most kids haven’t taken statistics yet, they are blinded by that number at the end. But what they miss is that key, determining word… “AVERAGE.” Many of us, (and I have far more than a BA), earn FAR LESS.  Three factors, studies show, greatly affect on what end of that average you will be: school selectivity, college major, and graduation rate.

If you do decide to go to college, considering what to major in ought to be a part of your process. For me, I love literature and writing and I wholeheartedly pursued advanced degrees in those fields. But now… well, I do not regret for a minute what I learned BUT I do wish I had pursued something with higher earnings potential that would allow me more free time to indulge my passion rather than being dependent on it. Ya feel me?

So take a look at this, The Cold Hard Facts.

by_major

I wonder if it’s too late for me to become a plumber. I’ve got the perfect pair of pants…


Are You Right or Left Brained?

Ah, the secret life of the human brain. It’s hard to imagine that something that exists inside of each of us, that governs our every waking moment (and every sleeping moment for that matter), can be too complex for us to completely understand–more mysterious than the depths of the deepest ocean. In just one second, for instance, our brains can form one million new connections. One million. To keep up with everything your brain does, well, you’d need another brain.

One aspect of the brain that has always perplexed me is the concept of the left vs right brain. There is a persistent idea that the world is divided into left-brained and right-brained people–the former latching onto logic and analytical thinking, the latter made up of loosey-goosey, emotionally intuitive types. Throughout our lives, many of us purport to be either one or the other–an identity that is forged and enforced in school. Students proficient in Math and Science will adopt the idea that they are left-brainers, while those most skilled in Arts will identify themselves as right-brainers.

But if you’re not certain yet as to whether you are right or left brained, well, there’s an infographic for that:

left_right_infographic

It’s interesting how this infographic ties in to information that is already quite commonplace. The idea, for example, that left-handed people possess greater creativity (given the fact that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body). I had thought this idea was simply an old-wives’ tale. It turns out, this is only slightly the case…

“Right-Brain, Left-Brain Theory” was actually formed as a result of neuropsychologist Roger W. Sperry’s work with epileptic patients. His treatment for epilepsy involved severing the corpus collosum (the membrane that separates the halves of the brain). This effectively reduced a patient’s number of seizures, but drastically affected other aspects of their lives:

Many split-brain patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed by the right side of the brain, but were able to name objects that were processed by the left-side of the brain. Based on this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled by the left-side of the brain. (Source)

So, it is true that each side of the brain is better able to handle certain tasks. It is simply the theory itself that is over-generalized when speaking of individuals. While the right brain may be better suited to expressing and reading emotions, recognizing faces, and creativity, and the left may focus more on language, logic, and numbers, it is really how the halves of your brain work in unison that makes up the type of learner and thinker that you are. All Mathies are not entirely left-brained, and all creative types are not completely right-brained–something that may make you feel better when you find, like I did, that your apparently dominant side doesn’t describe what you feel you are truly best at. (Numbers? Who, me??)

That being said, there is some use for dominance theory in curating good study habits.

Understanding your strengths and weaknesses in certain areas can help you develop better ways to learn and study. For example, students who have a difficult time following verbal instructions (often cited as a right-brain characteristic) can benefit from writing down directions and developing better organizational skills.

In particular, I can recall a mnemonic that worked well for me all the way back when I was preparing for my AP Psychology exam–a rhyme centering around numbers that helped me to memorize Erikson’s eight stages of development. Maybe I have always been numbers-oriented after all?

So, after identifying from the graphic above whether you are  left or right brained, here are some tips to help you learn and study most efficiently:

Left Brain Dominant:

  • To Do lists will work well for you, and you’re probably already an expert at them!
  • You might find that you’re more partial to non-fiction reading
  • You probably work better alone than in a group. If you must be in a group, volunteer as leader
  • Take advantage of your organizational skills in taking notes and scheduling
  • Push yourself to take risks! They can pay off

Right Brain Dominant:

  • You’ll excel in essays, more so than on factual, T/F-type questions
  • You probably don’t always read directions carefully–make that a priority
  • Use images and charts in your studies
  • Use your imagination and creativity to its fullest on all projects
  • Organize your thoughts by getting them down on paper

Are you left brain or right brain dominant? Take the test to find out! And if you have any study tips to help others with your learning type, we’d love to hear them in a comment!


That’ll Be a Gazillion Dollars, Plus Tax: The High Cost of Textbooks

college_bookstore

I remember the first time I had to buy books as an undergraduate.  I took my schedule and dutifully pulled book after book off the shelves for my courses and tried not to hyperventilate as I mentally tallied the increasing tab. Since I was a literature major, I was relatively lucky. My trade paper readings were typically between $20 and $40 dollars, but there were usually three or four required books per class. In addition to the required books, there was frequently a required “course packet,” a collection of copywritten essays the professor had had copied and bound. These course packets could vary widely in price, but I do not recall any being less than fifty dollars.  With a six course load, books fees were hundreds of dollars every single semester.

Yet, looking at the science major’s cart beside me, I knew I was getting off easy. Just one of their hefty, hardcover textbooks was $200 or more. We all stood in line and wondered just how long a person could survive on Ramen noodles…

Now, I graduated (static…crackling…mumbling) years ago. Okay… ten years ago…with my Master’s degree. Since then, there have been incredible technological advances: no one knew a “Nook” or a “Kindle” or an “iPad” could even be a thing in the world in 2003. If we had known such innovations were coming, I’m certain most of us would have guessed ebooks would have made textbooks and other materials far cheaper for students.

Nope.

Let me say that louder.

NOPE.

In fact, textbooks have gone up EIGHT HUNDRED AND TWELVE PERCENT since 1978!  Look!

textbook_prices

Ummm, what? And why?

Both The Atlantic and Slate have recently written about this issue. In Slate, Kevin Carey puts some of the blame on professors who order up their “wish list” of course materials for their classes with little regard to how necessary the book is to their class. (I cannot say that this has been my experience as a professor, but perhaps that is because I teach in a relatively low-income district. We are all hyper aware of how much our students have to shell out for required materials and make every effort to minimize those costs.)

Carey also identifies another reason for the elevation of textbook costs: bundling.  Publishers include things like software or handbooks that you may not want or need, either as a student or a professor, but you have no choice in the matter; you have to buy the bundle.

Still, the move to digital textbooks is increasing  and this astronomical rise in prices is likely a last-ditch effort for the textbook publishing mob…errr.. business…to collect all the money possible while they can.

I wonder what’s going to happen to the price of Ramen noodles in ten years?

 


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