Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says people with college degrees earn one million dollars more over their lifetimes than people who only get a high school diploma. You're nuts, then, if you don't go to college.
Unfortunately, Secretary Cardona's cheerleading pitch for higher education is only partially accurate. For example, people who attend for-profit colleges don't do so well. According to a Brookings report published a few years back, nearly half (47 percent) of the people who attend for-profit colleges default on their student loans within five years of beginning repayment (p. 48, table 8). And the overall five-year default rate is 28 percent.
We also know that thousands of academic programs don't pay off. Higher Education analyst Robert Kelchen compared student -loan debt to earnings for 45,000 educational programs and identified thousands where students left school owing more in student loans than their first-year salaries.
And more recently, the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOOP.org) released a report on educational outcomes for students who attend public universities. Foundation researcher Preston Cooper found Return on Investment (ROI) varied widely among the states.
Students who studied at a public university in these five states had the highest median return on investment: South Dakota ($216,027), Minnesota ($214,923), Iowa ($214,105), Kansas ($180,770), and Pennsylvania ($167,442).
At the bottom end of the Return-On-Investment scale were public universities in these five states: Hawaii (negative $5,720), Louisiana ($18,246), New Mexico ($20,877), Montana ($24,909), and Connecticut ($38,979).
Living as I do in Louisiana and only two blocks from Louisiana's flagship university, I was startled to learn that Louisiana public institutions have the lowest median return on investment of any public university system in the United States, except Hawaii, which has a negative return on investment.
Of course, not all students graduating from a Louisiana public college will end up with a low return on their college investment. Engineering graduates from LSU will do fairly well, as well as nursing graduates.
Colleges will never admit that they operate academic programs with poor financial outcomes. There's no warning sign on the door to the sociology department or the department of gender studies saying, "Ye who enter here are lost."After all, tenured professors teach in those departments, and they must lure at least a few gullible students to sign up for their loser programs.
Young people planning their college careers need to do their own research about the universities and academic programs they are considering. Don't be seduced by the colleges' glossy brochures--the ones that show pretty cheerleaders cavorting at sporting events and kindly professors instructing intense students on how they can cure cancer.
Before choosing a college and a major, ask yourself these questions. 1) How much will it cost?
2) How much money will I need to borrow, and how will I pay it back?
3) What's the monetary return on my college investment?
If you don't ask those questions, you may wind up with a bogus college degree, a mountain of student debt, and no clear way to earn a middle-class living.