Most Americans already know that a crisis is happening in American higher education.
Tuition costs are surging, putting a college education out of reach for many Americans. College grads are defaulting on college loans. They cannot find jobs in the fields they trained for.
Those trends make the news every day. Yet they are only the most visible signs of deeper troubles that threaten to destabilize American higher education in the coming years. Let’s take a closer look.
Coming Crisis: Colleges Will Price themselves Further and Further Out of Reach
According to the U.S. Census, the median income of U.S. households in 1970 was $8,390. By 1989, it has risen to $28,910. And by 2005, it was $46,326. Those figures indicate that Americans today are earning about 5.5 the salaries that they earned 40 years ago.
How much have college costs grown? According to the Congressional Budget Office, the average yearly tuition at a four-year public American university in 1970 was $480. The average tuition at a four-year private college or university was a lot higher, at $1,980.
Today, according to data from The College Board, tuition and fees at four-year state universities currently average $7,020 per year for students who live in- state, and $11,528 for students who live out of state. And private four-year colleges charge an average or $26,273 per year in tuition and fees.
So tuition costs are rising at a rate that far outpaces the growth in income of the typical American household. While income has grown by a factor of 5.5 in the last 40 years, the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and by a factor of about 24 for out-of-state students. And the cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13.
And colleges are planning tuition increases for the coming years. It’s the big squeeze. For many American families, the dream of sending a child to college is slipping even further out of reach.
Crisis: American Colleges Will Close
Endowments at American colleges and universities have dropped dramatically during the current economic downturn. At the University of Delaware, the endowment shrank by 24.8%. Gettysburg College lost 25.3%, and the list goes on and on.
Top-tier, well-funded institutions will weather the crisis. But a growing number of smaller American private colleges and universities are already finding it difficult to attract enough tuition-paying undergraduates to keep their doors open. With increasing frequency, these schools are making their troubles known.
There’s another reason that colleges are in trouble. With the lack of jobs awaiting graduates, it is difficult to convince many American families that it is really worth paying $30,000, $40,000 or more a year to earn a college degree.
Crisis: American Students Will Be Unable to Train for Available Jobs
The days of the English major, the philosophy major, and the general studies major may be numbered, as more students seek training for jobs that they can actually find after graduation. They are training as medical technicians, computer programmers and air conditioning technicians. Yet just as students are looking for practical training, the sources of that training are harder to find, for a few reasons.