Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is College Worth It?

Last year Notre Dame Magazine asked me if I would be willing to write a story about the high cost of college tuition these days, and offer my perspective on whether college was still a worthwhile investment for our students.  This really involved researching two questions: Why does college cost so much? And what do our students gain from their college education?

Understanding the first question was far more complex than I had anticipated.  Like everyone else, I had read plenty of pundits opining that college costs were being drive up by dorm amenities and other unnecessary campus expenses.  It turned out that those kinds of expenses, while real, were only a tiny part of the problem.  Gaining a clear picture of the real forces that have driven up tuition costs pushed me to the edge of my economic understanding, but also really helped me see the extent to which the media has oversimplified this issue and done a disservice to the public and to higher education.

Answering the second question was more simple, and involved looking at reports on the economic difference that a college degree makes on both employment prospects and lifetime earnings.  The picture that emerges from that analysis is a very clear one.

I spent a few months researching these questions, and conducting interviews, and then sat down and pounded out a draft in a single day--something I almost never do.  I much prefer to write a little bit on a project every day, working in very small chunks.  But I'm happy with the final product, which you can read at Notre Dame Magazine online.  It's a long-ish essay, but I hope you will find it worthwhile.

Today also marked the publication of the second of my three-part series on cheating in higher education; looking forward to finishing up with part three, which should be published just around the time the book becomes available.  Of course you can already order an advanced copy.

Finally, a reader e-mailed me a few months back to let me know about a nice overview of lecturing in higher education--what it's still good for, and how to do it well.  I'm passing along the link for those interested in this form of teaching.

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