Billionaires like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg have more in common than their entrepreneurial skills: They were all college dropouts. So, if they can succeed without a college degree, why should others put themselves through high levels of student loans and debt to earn a piece of paper they may never need?
Maybe they shouldn’t. At least, that’s what William Bennett and David Wilezol suggest in their recent book “Is College Worth It?” The two spoke at the weekly bloggers’ briefing at the Heritage Foundation on May 21, 2013.
Bennett, who served as secretary of education under former President Reagan, says that with college tuition rising higher than inflation rates and with increasing unemployment levels among college graduates, perhaps some should rethink the idea of attending a higher education institution.
However, parents are concerned about investing thousands of dollars in their child’s education and students wonder whether the four- year effort is worth it. “Our answer to the question is it all depends,” Bennett said Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation. “It depends on the student who’s going, what the interest is, what the motivation is – if there is motivation – what the talent is, what the student wants to study, [and] how much money you have.”
He added, “It also depends on the institution.”
Wilezol, currently an associate producer of Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show, said, “It matters where you go – not only because of the institutional resources – but because of the better social connections you can make at better schools.”
And these “better schools,” Wilezol explained, are often to blame for the sharp increase in tuition prices – a rise of 1100 percent since 1978. Because of their seemingly endless supply of “students who have the highest capacity to pay,” elite universities can raise tuition costs yearly. The problem comes when “second-tiered private institutions follow the same pattern,” Wilezol said.
But most high school graduates aren’t able to attend elite institutions like Yale, Harvard, or Stanford. Bennett and Wizeol understand this.
“Our thesis isn’t ‘don’t go to college,’” Wizeol said. Rather, because “46 percent of people who enroll in four year colleges never finish,” he encourages readers to “take an honest look at your capacity, inclination, and ability for academic work.”
In addition to the type of institution, the student’s area of interest also should be considered, the co-authors said.
“STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies have a higher return on investment than the liberal arts,” Wilezol explained. In fact, one of the reasons the two decided to write “Is College Worth It?” was in response to “a lot of sob stories about kids who…majored in things like history and political science and are [now] working in Starbucks.”
During a time in which politicians are urging more Americans to attend some sort of higher educational institution, some might take offense to Bennett and Wilezol’s argument.
President Obama said, in February 2009, that he believed “every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.”
Perhaps President Obama should take a closer look at the numbers: For those in the bottom “40 percent of their high school class, 76 percent of those who go to college don’t graduate within 8.5 years,” Wilezol said.
And Bennett is quick to remind people that both he and Wilezol are “classic liberal arts guys.”
“[For] philosophy, the classics…if you love it, and you want to get into debt, and you want to do it…fine,” Bennett said.
“All we’re saying is to go into this with your eyes open.”
Isabel Mittelstadt is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run jointly by Accuracy in Academia and its sister organization, Accuracy in Media.
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