We’re here because people across the country understand that in this day and age, college is hardly optional. It is incredibly hard to get and keep and hold a job today without some sort of college degree. Like it or not, that’s the America that we now live in. Like it or not, that’s the decision that we made, in many ways without any sort of public discussion or debate about whether this is where we wanted to end up.
The high price of college, even at public institutions, is inhibiting college attainment. Research on this point is quite clear. We are losing talent on a daily basis, and we are losing and disenfranchising young people and parents of young children all over the country because the price of college is simply too high. [Richard Vedder] Hillary Clinton, last month, said, and I quote, “I’m not in favor of making college free for Donald Trump’s kids.” I completely agree, as do twenty of the twenty-one candidates in the two major political parties who ran or who are running for President this year — everyone by Bernie Sanders.
We can argue about whether some of the benefits of college spillover to non-students, what economists call ‘positive externalities,’ that might justify some public subsidy of higher education. But what is simply not disputable, however, is that a huge part of the benefit of going to college goes to the students themselves, and then a large portion — and, indeed, I would suggest a majority of college students come from families with above-average incomes. Taxpayers don’t finance financial investments of their fellow citizens, so why should they pay for their human capital investments? [Sarah Goldrick-Rab] Donald Trump’s children didn’t go to public institutions, nor would anyone of Donald Trump’s level of wealth ever attend a public institution, let alone will they attend those schools when they are flooded with people from “regular” America — let’s be honest. “Is college worth it?”
I’ve heard this nonsense, frankly, about college not being worth it. Let’s just go over the unemployment rate of people who didn’t attend college — it’s currently 5.4 percent, if you finished a high school degree. If you got an associate’s degree, it’s 3.8 percent. If you got a bachelor’s degree, it’s 2.6. percent.
Let’s talk about the African American unemployment rate. Folks who are being priced out of college left and right by the decimation of wealth under the Great Recession: it’s 9.7 percent if you only have a high school degree; it’s 4 percent if you have a bachelor’s degree. These are very important facts, and the fear that people around us will go to college, that our own wage benefits will decline — well, that’s just fear-mongering, frankly, deciding to try to keep people out. These arguments have been around for a very long time, and I want you to know they were used to ensure that we would never have public high school either. [Richard Vedder] We provided incentives for people to exploit their potential, their talents, for gain.
They had skin in the game and, for the most part, throughout most of history, they financed it on their own. So, I think to call it racist or classist, whatever that is, to have to talk about skin in the game is somewhat disingenuous. I do not think it is quite fair to say that all of the gains that we attain — of, say, low-income people attain — come from going to college, nor do I think we have to- What about the costs associated with forty percent of the students who enter college not graduating in six years, who go to a four-year college? What about those costs? What, why-. And, if we lower the price of going to college, we are encouraging more and more people who have been, who are marginal academically.
[Sarah Goldrick-Rab] What I would say is that the number of people that are going to college today has increased partly through the effective role of government in encouraging people to go to college, by making college more affordable than it otherwise would have been. That’s a movement that was begun in the mid-1960s. [Richard Vedder] The reality is, intercollegiate athletic subsidies are in the five-to-ten billion dollar-a-year magnitude, which are not inconsequential, but they’re not substantial. The real issue is it costs twenty-five or thirty thousand dollars — or, whatever — to educate a college student in the US, on average; whereas, in most parts of Europe, and elsewhere in the world, it’s ten or fifteen thousands much less. We are a high-cost country for educating. Intercollegiate athletics are part of it.
[Sarah Goldrick-Rab] What will be at risk if we don’t allow other people’s children to go to college? And, for that, I want you to think about the fire department. Think about your house, right now; think about what your house is doing right now — it’s sitting there nice and quietly.
And, think about what you would do if your neighbor next door to your house had a fire this evening, and they thought about calling the fire department, but they don’t have enough money to pay for it, and it costs money. Because, of course, you know, why should we take care of each other? They might as well just charge for the fires. What would happen to your house tonight?
Your house would burn down. We know something about how fires spread, and we know about the contagions of these sorts of things, and it’s why we pay, together, for the fire department to be free; because we wouldn’t want our neighbors to hesitate for one moment about calling their fire department. [Richard Vedder] The correlation between spending on colleges and reputation is positive.
That is, the more you spend, the better your reputation. And, a lot of schools are going for reputation, rightly or wrongly. [Sarah Goldrick-Rab] If we continue to rank people, rank schools, based on inputs or outputs, we’re going to get gaming. We can say we want high graduation rates, and then we’ll do what I know one institution just did, which is to get the African American graduation rate up, to start taking the right ones — meaning, the wealthy, out-of-state ones.
It got an award for doing that. We have to understand the process through which people become educated, and why they really leave, in order to hold them accountable for that process. The GI Bill conservative estimates indicate it produced a return on investment of six dollars for every dollar spent. It had effects across generations.
We saw similar effects that accrued when the City University of New York opened its doors in the early 1970s, and Paul Attewell and David Lavin trapped those effects over the following 30 years; effects on the women who went to college during that time and on their children. These are intergenerational effects. I absolutely would not be standing here today, and wouldn’t be who I am, if my grandfather hadn’t gone to college on the GI Bill, and I challenge you to try to measure that.
[Richard Vedder] People are different. For some people, college is an exciting experience, an important experience, a transformative experience, an income-creating experience. There are other students, forty percent by some measures, who don’t make it through college at all, and for whom? College today, particularly if they borrow money to finance this less successful experience, is sometimes something of a misery. It’s a risky investment. Now, that isn’t say we shouldn’t have college, nor does it say we shouldn’t support college publicly.
But, it says we need to take this into account. [Sarah Goldrick-Rab] You would have this problem if the states had pulled back the way they did, which is the cause of the rising prices in a public higher education; these are very different causes. The loans are driving the behavior in private institutions, along with the arms race that we’ve been talking about in the public sector.
Community college prices were never rising until the states abandoned their commitment, and left people high and dry precisely at a time when they needed the community colleges more than ever. [Richard Vedder] The gaps between colleges themselves have grown over time. There’s growing educational inequality. And, in 1988, eight schools out of the top 25 in the US News ra- the hated US News rankings, eight out of the top 25 schools in 1988, this was the first year the modern US News rankings, were public universities.
Last year, two were. [Sarah Goldrick-Rab] It isn’t some great thing to pat Harvard on the back for graduating students. They took students who would graduate if they did nothing with them, okay. It’s a much more difficult thing to take the kinds of students who enter LaGuardia Community College every year and provide them with the level of resources that LaGuardia gets for educating those students, and get them to graduation. So, I think that there are two things that would happen.
First of all, we’re gonna remove the price barrier in a much more sincere way; not entirely, but in a much more sincere way than we have right now, okay? And, I think we’re going to see graduation rates go up. And, in fact, I think there’s pretty good evidence that they will, in fact, rise.
Maybe more so, Richard, than we’ve been able to do in our empirical models, which only include observed variables, right, that we can actually measure; and price is often badly measured in those models right now. [Richard Vedder] But the notion that somehow going to pre-college is going to improve the financial condition of public schools vis-a-vis private ones, I think is, simply, not the case. [Sarah Goldrick-Rab] We’re going to increase the efficiency.
When students are graduating at higher rates, which they will be when they’re not having to work such long hours because they are trying to pay for school, they will be more efficient. And, the schools will recoup those dollars That’s number one. Number two, you read any free college plan out there.
It is never just about lowering the price. It’s been reduced to that in public discussion, which is unfortunate, but it’s always about resources, it’s always about accountability, and it’s always about state investment. And, under those conditions, we would see more resources.