Friday, September 2, 2022

A Degree From a Tiny College Is Like A Thousand Dollar Car: Ain't Worth Nothing

 The Bottle Rockets, whose music has been compared to Woodie Guthrie's, sing a poignant tune about a thousand-dollar car:

A thousand dollar car, it ain't worth nothin' 

A thousand-dollar car, it ain't worth shit

Might as well take your thousand dollars
And set fire to it.
A thousand-dollar car ain't worth a dime
You lose your thousand dollars every time.
Oh, why did I ever buy a thousand-dollar car?

If you are thinking about getting a liberal arts or humanities degree from a college with less than a thousand students, you should listen to the Bottle Rockets' Thousand-Dollar Car song.  Simply substitute "tiny college" for "thousand-dollar car." A degree from a school with less than a thousand students "ain't worth nothing. . . ain't worth shit."

Colleges with less than 1,000 students are in a precarious financial position, with many on the brink of closure. Nevertheless, the number of these schools is growing.

According to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, there were 395  "micro colleges" in 2010. In 2020, there were 435.

That's not because more tiny colleges are being founded; many small colleges are shrinking due to declining enrollments.

Indeed, many of these little colleges would have folded during the COVID pandemic if the federal government hadn't shoveled money into them. The feds sent $77 billion of helicopter money to colleges and universities through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, and the micro colleges got a piece of that pie.

Federal money has propped up small private colleges for years, much like a terminal patient on life support. But isn't it time these schools shut down?

For example, Harvey Mudd College in California only had 854 students in 2020, and its annual cost of attendance is $84,000. Why would you want to study there?

Wesley College in Delaware has 917 students and saw a 50 percent drop in enrollment between 2010 and 2020.  The total cost of attendance for a four-year degree is $178,000 (including room and board).  That's a shocking price tag for a degree from a little-known school with a tiny student body.

I don't mean to disparage the small private colleges. Many have an honorable record of serving students in their communities, and many were founded by religious groups for a noble purpose. Many did a fine job teaching the liberal arts and the humanities--some for a hundred years or more.

Nevertheless, the era of the small private college is over. You would be nuts to take out student loans to attend a college with less than 1,000 students.

A liberal arts degree from an obscure, tiny college ain't worth nothing.

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