Double, Double, Boil, And Bubble

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Posted on : 9/26/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , , ,

For those that have been following the news, we had the dot-com bubble, then the housing bubble, and now we have the education bubble.  The education bubble is the government subsidized debt that students (and their parents) acquire in pursuit of a college/university degree.  The primary problem is that we have too many former students carrying more debt than their incomes can support.

While there are a lot of issues in the education bubble to unpack and explore, one big issue is the type of degrees that colleges and universities are selling.  Altruistic issues aside, colleges and universities are businesses that get paid up front based on the theoretic economic benefits that their products can create throughout a person's life.

Unfortunately, some people graduate from college and still cannot get a job that is worth having.  One list of collegiate majors suggests ten careers where borrowing money to fund the necessary educations is foolish.

  • Anthropology
  • Fine Arts
  • Film and Photography
  • Philosophy and Religious Studies
  • Graphic Design
  • Studio Arts
  • Liberal Arts
  • Drama and Theater Arts
  • Sociology
  • English
I'm not sure of the best way to resolve the impending economic crash due to education related debt.  I do think that colleges are behaving in precisely the same manner as more traditional businesses; particularly businesses that specialize in investing such as Goldman Sachs or Countrywide.  They are most certainly not advising students about the logical conclusions of accumulating large amounts of debt while not simultaneously acquiring a degree that will enable the repayment of that debt.

Were we talking about any other industry, the howls of outrage would be deafening.

Now I can hear other howls right now.  I am not being "anti-education".  People should still go to college.

But they should be aware of their choices.  If you have a college fund and can afford to spend $200,000+ on an Ivy League BA in sociology, then have a great time!  But if you are borrowing money to get the same degree, then perhaps you ought to consider a local community college for the first two years before transferring to a more affordable four year school.

The flip side of that coin is that colleges and universities should be providing the sort of detailed counseling that will give accurate information to prospective students.  As of a few years ago, the standard collegiate sales technique was to say that possessing a level of education (associates, bachelors, masters, doctorate) was worth "X" amount of additional income over a person's lifetime...on average.  What they did not do was to break down the different fields of study so that the prospective student knew that the average BA in fine arts was using the phrase "would you like fries with that, sir" in their current employment while the average BS in engineering was earning three to four times (or more) what burger flippers earn.

I have felt less slimy after talking to certain used car salesmen.

This is not a problem that is solely limited to the "squishy" fields of study.  The Blogfather continues chronicle our nation's over-production of lawyers.  Law schools continue to heavily solicit students for their programs while knowing full well that a significant portion of those students will not be able to find jobs in their career field.

Again, the less slimy feeling and used car salesmen come into play.

Fixing the problem seems pretty straightforward.  Colleges and universities should be required to publish detailed and accurate average earnings information for their graduates broken down by field of study.  An accurate description of the jobs held by those graduates should be included.

And loans given to students should be conditional upon the college or university rebating a portion of the tuition received if a graduating student does not find work that pays enough for them to repay those loans.  Institutions of higher learning need to have "some skin in the game".

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