college: the basic facts
Having spent a lot of time doing higher education research, I get asked about college all the time. Here are my major talking points.
For high school students:
- Even though social scientists disagree on why college is correlated with income, the evidence does show that there is a very large difference in life outcomes between college degree earners and everyone else.
- Don’t worry about which college to go to. Find one that you enjoy and that is affordable. In general, most people will move into jobs where pedigree does not matter.
- Getting into college: With the exception of the top 40 schools in America – out of 4,000! – most colleges have high acceptance rates, including a lot of good ones.
- The exception: There are a few careers where pedigree matters a l0t – the law, politics, some the performing and visual arts, and academia. Not a guarantee of success, but specific colleges do substantially boost your chance of success.
- Major: The big secret of higher education is the difference between STEM majors, business majors, and everyone else. In general I urge people to study what they enjoy because you will get the college degree income boost in any case. But if income is important, focus on STEM or business/econ.
For college students:
- People sort early into “tracks.” By the first year of college, most people will fall into a “party track” or a serious track. If you have any concern with professional school or completing in a timely fashion, don’t fall into the party track. It is hard to get out of.
- Performance: The easiest way to do well in college is not to master the lecture notes, it is to study previous tests and papers.
- Graduate school: Some jobs (e.g., medicine) require a post-graduate credential. Most jobs don’t. If you are wondering if you should go to graduate school, make sure you need the degree first.
- 529s, people. 529s.
- Cost: With the exception of a few career tracks (e.g., academia), where you go to school doesn’t seem to have a big effect, although people do enjoy college more at small liberal arts institutions. So unless you have a lot of discretionary income, encourage children to go to public university. You’ll save the price of a house.
- Students typically enroll in academically comparable schools that are close by. So, yes, a few ambitious kids will move cross country for school, but most won’t.
For policy makers:
- Costs are out of control due to administrative growth and student services. The solution is to relieve colleges of administrative burdens and cut services and administrators.
- Faculty salaries have been flat.
- There is a massive increase in part time labor/adjuncts.
- State support for higher education will never come back. Alternative income sources must be found.