In a classic scene from the first episode of the Cosby Show, Theo tells his father that he isn’t going to college. Using Monopoly money, Dr. Huxtable explains the cost of life and the insufficiency of a “regular” salary of someone without a college education.
The scene works in part because of the obvious financial advantages of going to college. This episode first aired on September 20, 1984. For thirty years, the question of the value of college has been settled. How do I know? Cliff Huxtable told me so.
Yet, it seems every few months there is a story in the press questioning the value of college such as this one from The Economist back in April.
I’m all for debate. We have serious issues facing how we finance higher education as I’ve detailed in this space before. We should debate these questions. However, the constant stories about whether college is worth it aren’t a debate. Put simply, they are dangerous.
We know that for the vast majority of people, the decision to go to college is the path to economic security. According to a Pew report, the wage premium of higher education is at a record high— $17,500. This gap will likely grow as the same report found that the value of a high school diploma was dramatically declining.
The reality is that we need more college graduates as nearly every economist or educator would tell you.
However, there is seemingly a never ending supply of news stories questioning the value of college. They have almost become boilerplate.
Introduce recent graduate that is working at some menial job that doesn’t require a college degree. Introduce astronomically high amount of student debt incurred. Introduce second student that is still working on a degree even though it makes no sense financially. Talk about the growth of tuition costs and student debt. Close with a quote where recent graduate questions the value of college.
Again, let me say: This is dangerous.
Do we think the reporter in the story isn’t sending their kids to college? Probably an expensive one? Do we think the publication’s editors aren’t doing the same?
Are there students hurting in light of the economy? Are there students heavily burdened by student debt? Of course. However, the vast majority of students will benefit tremendously from college.
This isn’t one of those issues where the media needs to show both sides of an issue to be fair. The evidence is overwhelming. It is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.
I worry about the students that hear this narrative and decide higher education isn’t worth the risk. I’m particularly concerned about first generation and minority students that may be making this calculation.
Those of us in higher education must continue pushing back on this narrative. There is no sign that these stories will stop popping up every few months. We need to remind reporters, editors, and the public that this isn’t a debate. The evidence is clear and convincing.
Suggesting otherwise is journalistic malpractice at best and damaging the lives of future generations at worst.
Here’s a YouTube clip of the Cosby Show scene. Such a classic!