The Cost Of Education

It seems to me…

Our labor force is too expensive and poorly educated for today’s market place.”  ~ Bill Gross, PIMCO CEO.

The U.S. education system has become an embarrassing disaster.  In the span of one generation, our educational system reportedly has dropped in comparison with other advanced nations from first to ninth in the percentage of young people earning college degrees.  Not only does this directly affect our international standing, there also is a strong correlation between academic achievement and poverty.

Overall, our educational system currently ranks 26th in the world according to the World Economic Forum.  Education is a determining factor in employment.  During the recent recession, 25 percent of high school dropouts were unemployed, 14 percent that had completed high school, but only 4 percent of those with a college degree.  Our country must accept that we have to make a choice between improving our educational system and accepting a lower standard of living.

It seems difficult for either our elected politicians or much of the general public to understand the seriousness of these trends.  Change is difficult while it still is generally perceived that our position at the top of the mountain remains unchallenged.  Unfortunately, it will take fifteen to twenty years to produce the next generation of skilled educated innovators we need.  We cannot afford to wait that long to make necessary changes.

There essentially are three tiers of universities in the U.S.  The top tier — the Stanfords, MITs, Harvards… — not only provide a general background in a field but a base upon which the student will be able to learn and develop in the future.  The second tier — the majority of universities — provide a more basic but still rounded education.  The third tier — the DeVrys — essentially are trade schools where students are trained in specific subjects for available positions.

All educators would prefer more extensive and rounded study programs but accept the necessity of compromise.  Accreditation boards in most fields specify what subject matter must be taken to qualify for a degree in that subject.  Subject deficiencies are generally acknowledged but it already is difficult for most students to complete the required course material within four years.  What we have is far from what we might like but accept that, in general, it would be difficult to do much better given system constraints.  Extending the time required to complete undergraduate programs only places greater financial stress on the student (and their families).  Adding additional course material would only increase the time, and consequently the expenses, required for students to complete their studies.

While some universities provide a more extensive background than others in science or humanities, with the exception of some schools in the third tier, they attempt to provide the type of background generally advocated by curriculum committees at the undergraduate level.  Graduate level curriculums, in general, are specific to the field of study (though as a graduate student, I did take a couple social science classes on technology and society and assume most other students do also).

The cost[i] of attending college has increased well beyond what most students can reasonably afford.  The average student debt for educational loans has increased 8 percent since 2010 to $27,300 (adding in loans parents have taken bring this to $34,300); a 30 percent inflation adjusted increase since 2000[ii].  The cost for an undergraduate degree has increased 538 percent in the last 30 years.  Is it any question that 41 percent of recipients of student loans that started repayment since 2005 are either delinquent or have defaulted?  Student loans cannot be eliminated through a declaration of bankruptcy – the government can garnish up to 15 percent of someone’s take-home pay, dock disability benefits, and deny a security clearance.

Given the high costs associated with attending college, most students already experience difficulty paying for their higher education and frequently are left with extremely high debts that take quite a few years to pay off.  Addressing what needs to be done to reduce these costs is another subject but given conservative opposition to funding of public education, costs probably will continue to increase.

Until we finish high school, education and employment are separate entities connected only through summer vacations.  Afterwards, education remains a background part of our remaining lives while employment defines who and what we are.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[i] College Spending Trends Show Students Bearing a Growing Share of the Costs, The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 2011,

[ii] Dell, Kristina.  I Owe U, Time, 31 October 2011, p 42.


About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in College, Cost, Education, Employment, Funding, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Unemployment and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Cost Of Education

  1. Roland says:

    Sorry for being off topic but access The Cost Of Education | Lew Bornmann’s Blog gave me 404s as I was doing research on long term care insurance cost based services.


  2. The university’s website uses as an example a student with a total family income of $51,000 and less than $100,000 in assets; in this scenario, the parents pay nothing for their child’s education. The student received a total financial aid package of $56,501 per year, consisting of a Cornell Grant and Federal Work Study, including about 10 hours or work per week in a campus job during the academic year. The student is expected to contribute $3,250 for his first year at Cornell University, which includes $750 from his own personal assets of $3,000 dollars and the money—about $2,500—he will earn from a summer job prior to entering Cornell University.


    • lewbornmann says:

      Student loan rates differ for each college and university. In general, however, nearly 20 million Americans attend college each year and close to 12 million – or 60 percent – borrow annually to help cover costs. In 2012 the average graduate’s student loan debt was $27,253 – a 58 percent increase since 2005 when it was $17,233 . Two-thirds of the class of 2011 held student loans upon graduation.

      Of the 37 million borrowers who have outstanding student loan balances, 14 percent, or about 5.4 million borrowers, have at least one past due student loan account. Unfortunately, many college graduates wait for their first loan bill before they become aware of the size of their student loan payment. According to a recent study by NERA Economic Consulting, 40 percent of college graduates with federal loans couldn’t recall receiving any consultation with regards to their student loan debt.

      Many public colleges have hiked tuition significantly in response to state budget cuts, while private colleges have also been increasing tuition. Just 35 percent of families paying for college received a scholarship in 2012, down from 45 percent in 2011.


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  5. Bruce Scott says:

    A word of caution before we crunch the numbers: Although these admission statistics may seem startling, even prohibitive, prospective students and parents would be wise to remember that a quality college education is still within reach. The admission rates at Ivy League and other highly selective institutions are exceptions to the norm; there are more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in this country, and many accept a sizable percentage of students who apply.


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