Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Value of a College Degree (The times they are a changin')

There are many conflicting currents in our society concerning education. Credentials, while still important in some fields such as medicine are declining in value. Competence, with or without credentials is more important than ever, particularly in the IT field. While the cost of higher education has increased at 5 times the rate of inflation over the last 30 years, the best and the brightest are going to the best school that offers them a full free ride. The competition for these students is enormous.

There is a small cloud on the horizon, no bigger than a man’s hand, Internet learning. Georgia Tech is offering a Master’s degree in Computer Science for $6,000 in conjunction with Udacity, a Silicon Valley company specializing in so-called Massive Open Online Courses.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “The upfront costs to create the online lectures run between $200,000 and $300,000, but once those hard outlays have been made the cost per each additional student is minimal.” It is estimated that it will be necessary, “To hire one full-time teacher for every 100 online students as opposed to one full-time teacher for every 10 or 20 students who study on campus.”

I am currently taking a for real 400 level course in personal finance (self paced and not for credit) offered by the Brigham Young University Marriot School of Management. If you can live with the frequent references to the LDS faith, the material is first rate and it is FREE. All the lectures are on video. All the PowerPoint slides are there in PowerPoint or PDF format. It even comes with a 600 page PDF textbook. All for FREE. This material is more complex and goes deeper into more subjects than any of the popular personal finance courses. This should surprise no one. It is a 400 level class from a highly regarded University. We Christians could learn a thing or two from our Mormon neighbors.

The students taking this class will be prepared for life in the real world.

BYU Personal Finance Course

The number of “good jobs” available to Americans of average ability is in a 40 year decline, due to globalization, automation, and regulation. I firmly believe that the two most important skills to have in our post-industrial world are sales ability and entrepreneurial ability. A competent salesman is never without a job. One good salesman can generate jobs for 100 factory workers. That is not an exaggeration. I have seen it with my own eyes. No matter what the condition of the economy, there are always people who can see a need and then invent their own jobs to fill that need. These are the entrepreneurs. Not only will they be able to support themselves, but they will provide employment for future generations of Americans in fields that we can not even imagine today. Neither of those professions requires a high school diploma, let alone a college degree.

The current model is unsustainable. Consider that a BA in English from Furman University now runs around $216,000 for careers that offer a starting salary of $40,975 according to I have seen lower numbers in other places. Let us assume that our English major could earn an average of $25,000 a year during her first four years after high school. That makes the opportunity cost of that degree $316,000. Add another $19,664 in interest on a 10 year $50,000 student loan at 7% brings the grand total to around $336,000.

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