Why is Higher Education so Expensive?

Tuition is Too Damn High

“We have a responsibility to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, from prekindergarten to elementary and secondary, to special education, to technical and higher education and beyond.” ~Jim Jeffords

Higher Education has become quite the flash point in recent years. Students of all stripes (myself included) have been subject to constant increases in the cost of their college education. Of course, they could always decide to skip college and just enter the workforce, thus saving tens of thousands of dollars. Oh wait, never mind, they really can’t. As the cost of higher education has continued to rise, it has only become more of a necessity. Don’t believe me?  Ask all those insurance agents if a bachelor’s degree was really necessary to do the work they do.  Or the companies who need employees trained in highly specialized fields like computer science if they’ll hire someone straight out of high school. Though the more important question is how did we get here?

Problem 1: State Higher Education funding has not matched the need nor the demand of this generation. While funding for education has generally risen for higher ed over the past decade, it has not come close to meeting demand. In fact, most public state institutions have actually seen funding decrease dramatically in relation to the amount the student pays in tuition. In Minnesota, this has accounted for a state college and university system that once was two-thirds state funding, one-third tuition to shift to the opposite ratio. As we continue to see more students pursuing a higher-education, the lack of legislative will to match that increase with a proportionate amount of funding is placing the financial burden solely on the back of the students.

Problem 2: Educating a student simply costs more. One thing I never understood about Star Wars, was how they afforded to build those technological marvels like the Death Star and lightsaber. It couldn’t have been cheap.  Similarly, as the world makes rapid technological advances, the education required to utilize that technology in the work force increases as well. In order to stay on the cutting edge, college and universities must invest thousands of dollars into the latest teaching tools. Whether this is a state-of-the-art science lab or an effective Learning Management System the cost of education increases with every new innovation. Unfortunately, that cost gets passed on directly to the student in the form of increased fees and tuition.

Problem 3: Companies that use to train their employees, now rely on the higher education institutions to do it for them. There was a time when you could get an entry-level job doing something as simple as working in a mail room. From there you could work your way up with the help of in-house training. In many ways, those days are behind us. Instead, employers expect you to attend college for a very specific field, get the requisite experience through what is many times an unpaid internship, and then fill a very specific need. This  has forced anyone who would like a well-paying, stable job to first invest a great deal of resources in a college education. This of course leads to further financial stress on the colleges and universities around the country. Well at least until we can upload information directly into our brains ala The Matrix.

Getting a higher education degree is unlikely going to get cheaper in the near future thanks to the combination of the increasing cost to educate students, a lack of state funding, and the simple reality corporations expect more out of higher education. However, there are things we as a society can do to reverse the trend before the costs begin to affect our ability to maintain a competitive workforce. First, we can begin  to prioritize higher-education funding as a priority when we head to the ballot box by supporting politicians who are serious about addressing the issue. Secondly, we can encourage the use of cheaper technological solutions to old problems (e.g. open source textbooks) to reduce the cost of educating our college students. Lastly, while its unlikely businesses will return to an era where they trained their employees from the bottom to the top, we can encourage partnerships between the private sector and the colleges and universities in order to find creative solutions to drive down the cost of higher education. Or we can always just assign everyone a career chip and cut out the middle man.

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Door Number One: A Career that Inspires

” Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” ~Buddha

Its been awhile since I introduced the grand concept of the 50 doors. The idea that the key to happiness lies in fulfilling a number of unique, but equally important needs. Rather than allow this idea to be regulated to the hall of blog posts past, I will be exploring these doors, and delving deeper in why they are important and what one should consider one they step through threshold.

As most of us probably spend a disproportionate amount of time in our lives working towards a career we might as well start there. As necessary as being employed is to our existence, it not only makes sense that work should be a main focus in our lives, but that we should constantly be striving to find the job that give us the most satisfaction. Since we are still a couple of years away from the development of the Lightsaber and the rise of Jedi Knight as a credible profession it may not always be clear what we should be doing to get the most out of this facet of our lives. Fortunately, there are a number of steps one can take to help make the process easier.

Pursue some type of post secondary education. While there are many who would question whether we should all attend college, I would argue this is the most important step one can take in better understanding the career they should pursue. This does not mean we all need to immediately go out and take on massive loads of debt in order to stumble through a college program, hoping we will one day find what it is we should spend our lives doing. However, simple steps like taking a course at a community college, or doing some internet research on available college and job training programs may be just what we need to light the spark of inspiration that allows us to find our way out of the doldrums of job uncertainty.

Take an inventory of what hobbies and activities in your life that are most satisfying. Like to fix things around the house? Maybe looking into become a mechanic or an engineer. Really enjoy writing? There are multiple professions in need of a competent, passionate writer. Like to spend a lot of time in the woods? Maybe look into the wildlife and resource management field. The point is, sometimes the key to success in our working lives lies in finding a way to get paid for doing something we would gladly do for free. While this does not always work, (I’m still waiting on that professional nap taker job opening) at least considering the many things we do in our lives when we are not at work and how they could be turned into a career is a good step towards finding the job that will inspire us to get out of bed each morning.

Volunteer for things that pique your interest. Sometimes the best thing we can do, when we’re not certain the direction our professional life should take is to find volunteer opportunities with causes and issues we believe in. It not only allows us to get a taste for the type of work done in these areas, but enables one to gauge their interest in particular areas without committing no more than the time we are willing to donate. Furthermore, if we decide we would like a career working with a particular cause or issue, volunteering gives us an inside track to learning where the jobs are and who is best to contact as we move forward. At the very least it provides a couple of good experiences for a resume.

A good education, pursuing what we love, and testing the waters via volunteering are excellent stepping-stones to landing a dream career. Once we determine what it is we want to do with our lives, its important to take whatever steps necessary to make the possibility a reality. Also, it is never too late to make a course correction. While it may make life more difficult to change things up, remaining at an undesired job can have ramifications for every element of one’s life. In either case, whether it be beginning that first career or changing course midstream the most important thing one can do is taking that first step.