Monday, February 18, 2013

College Costs in US and China

Yesterday's New York Times had two articles that actually focused on a problem that affects both the United States and China. In the first there was a profile of a couple who had sacrificed everything to get their daughter into college (daxue). The father had gone down into a claustrophobic, pollution filled coal mine to earn the money for his daughter's education. The problem in China today, though, is that an enormous number of students have graduated from college to face a limited number of jobs. After a lifetime of sacrifice, the Chinese family has no savings for retirement and the daughter had doubts that getting an education would be worth it. She wants to get a job.

In another section of the times, Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, says "the United States has less equality of opportunity than almost any other advanced industrial country."

One issue has to be looked at very carefully. Universities spent like crazy on all sorts of projects that may have had a limited social benefit. Because of faculty dissension, one University of California campus has three music departments. I think every campus should have a music department, even though graduates will make the least of all graduates coming from the institution (unless, of course, they got a sociology degree and took that A.B. into the business world with no additional education).

(By the way, I have a doctorate in the social sciences, and do not demean the importance of a liberal education).

So we have a country where it's almost impossible to work your way through college. Because college tuition has reached an astronomical level, totally out of sync with the increase in the CPI, ambitious people must take on enormous debt to receive their education. Add an advanced degree, which most people need to get a good job, and you have a financial disaster that will haunt the debtor throughout his life.

In Europe (not to hold them out as an example of fiscal responsibility) college educations are mostly free. In America, Republicans once pushed to have banks provide student loans that frequently were at onerous rates. Now all student loans come from the government and we can hardly look at repayments as the source of income for our government.

In China, it is an immense burden for low income families to send a child to college. We, in American higher education, have made sure that it's a burden on our children, although that was totally unnecessary.

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