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Higher ed at what cost?

Published: Sun, September 25, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

A parent whose one son graduated from medical school and whose other son attends Youngstown State University was bemoaning the high cost of higher education and offered this insight:

His physician son, a graduate of Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, is practicing in Pittsburgh — even though the family lives in the Valley. Why?

“Because he owes so much in student loans he couldn’t make enough money in this area to pay them off,” said the father.

As for the son who needs one more class to graduate from YSU but has to attend another semester because the course wasn’t available, he’s living at home.

And what are his prospects of getting a job should he decide not to join his father’s business?

Here’s a statistic from the Economic Policy Institute that is a wake-up call for students and parents alike: In 2010, the unemployment rate for college graduates younger than 25 years old was 9.3 percent; in 2007, it was 5.4 percent.

High unemployment

Or, as the Associated Press reported last week, “In record-setting numbers, young adults struggling to find work are shunning long-distance moves to live with Mom and Dad, delaying marriage and buying fewer homes, often raising kids out of wedlock. They suffer from the highest unemployment since World War II and risk living in poverty more than others — nearly 1 in 5.”

Len Boselovic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette published a piece entitled, “Letter to the Class of 2011,” in which he said:

“The Class of 2009 left college with an average debt of $24,000, up 6 percent from the previous year, according to The Project on Student Debt. Those are the latest figures available. Given that tuition and fees rose anywhere from 4 to 8 percent … according to the College Board, there is a good chance the Class of 2011 will have more debt than the Class of 2009.”

And what will college graduates get for that investment? A lousy job — or no job at all.

Therein lies the cost-benefit dilemma of higher education. There was a time when having a college degree was a ticket to good paying, secure employment. Not any more.

A regular reader of The Vindicator sent along a note about Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder who was interviewed recently on NBC Nightly News. Vedder has gained a national reputation for his critiques of higher education in America.

Attached to the note was an article written by Vedder that sought to explain why costs keep rising in the nation’s colleges and universities. He listed 12 reasons: Non-Profit; Bottom Line; Lack of Information; Third Party Payment; Ownership; Governance; Resource Rigidities; Barriers to Entry and Restraints on Competition; Public Support, Regulation and Control; Rent Seeking; Price Discrimination; and, Cross-Subsidization.

(Details of each of the 12 reasons can be found on the Internet.)

But the economics professor also was a guest on a National Public Radio program and offered his view on why college may not be a good investment for everyone.

“Forty-five percent of people who go to college, four-year colleges, don’t get a bachelors degree within six years. Those people often have met with disappointment and their investment isn’t particularly good, necessarily. Another group of people graduate from college and then have trouble getting jobs and end up taking jobs for which a college degree is not really a prerequisite. Twelve percent of the mail carriers in the United States today have college degrees. And I have nothing against mail carriers with college degrees, but I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity to have a college degree to deliver the mail.”

State funding

The issue of the cost of higher education is particularly relevant in Ohio, where state funding for public universities and colleges is being slashed, forcing administrations to push for higher tuition and fees.

At Youngstown State University, which is in the midst of a labor dispute with the faculty union over operating costs, the cap of 3.5 percent on tuition increases is causing a financial hardship. In addition, the 4 percent drop in enrollment has meant less revenue.

Thus the question: How long can YSU keep raising tuition and fees before it triggers an exodus of students?

The answer: Not long.

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