As college graduates across the country don their caps and gowns and shuffle across the stage to accept their degrees, many are questioning the worth of the thin piece of paper in their hands. If there was a return counter at the other side of the stage where they could exchange their education and degree for a full refund, how many would walk over and demand their money back?
A lot, as it turns out. A majority of Americans (57 percent) say the higher education system fails to provide students with good value for the money, according to a recent Pew study. The average annual cost of a four-year public college this year, including room and board, was $20,339, up nearly 8 percent from the year before. That means a four-year degree costs $81,356. That number rises to $129,316 for out-of-state tuition and $161,904 for private colleges. To finance that, the average student walks away with $24,000 in debt. “A lot of students feel as though they’ve been taken for a ride by the current system,” says Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For.
It’s a concept certain to horrify the many parents who believe their college degree gave them a fulfilling career and financially stability, and who hoped it would do the same for their children. But a four-year college diploma has less weight in the still-troubled job market. A combination of strained state budgets, questionable management, and lower academic standards has diluted the value of a degree.