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Letter: Higher education is a systemic failure

Higher education is a systemic failure

The Aug. 6 article about student debt is another reminder of the systemic failure of our higher education economic model.

Sixty years ago, the average tuition at a good engineering school in current dollars was $3,800, a level of academic investment sufficient to put a man on the moon as well as engineer the great postwar infrastructure expansion. Today that ranges from $13,000 to $34,000 at a comparable state school.

Fueled by the baby boomer demand, colleges and universities established a practice of raising tuitions as more student financial aid was provided, ultimately a vicious circle for the student. Unencumbered by normal business regulations and outsider review, they could spend money as they pleased: they chose to dramatically add layers of administrators and related staffers. By the time enrollment peaked in 2010, administrative staff outnumbered the faculty. Not surprisingly, student debt has quadrupled over the last dozen years to $1.44 trillion, owed by 44 million Americans.

Today the academy is woefully out of synch with the needs and expectations of the rest of the country. Only 40 percent of four-year students graduate on time, a waste of their time and money. Men comprise only 43 percent of college students. More than a third of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates only 20 percent of jobs require one. Nearly half of graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. Gallup found that only one-third of Americans believe graduates are well prepared for success in the workforce.

Malcolm Vanderburgh


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