Blog: Trivializing the Value of Education

By Kevin Kuzma, Online Editor

The saying was prominent when I was in college about 10 years ago (but then again so were books, phones that fit in your hand, and rock music.) The saying went something like this: "Even if you don’t find a job right away, at least you have an education."

This saying was usually told to English majors, History majors, or anyone about to graduate with a degree in something that didn’t offer them much direction once they finished the walk across stage to pick up their diplomas — unless they wanted to become teachers.

The sentiment, then, was that the real value was in the knowledge that was bestowed upon you.

Even though you or your parents had shelled out a considerable amount of money for new ideas and perspectives of the world, your education was something for which you should be grateful.

The Department of Education’s "gainful employment" rule essentially nullifies this perspective. The stance that they have taken with career training-oriented colleges adds what they must see as a higher objective into educational attainment, that of a job that pays well enough the first few years to cover your student loan payments. The rule puts a price on education and yet somehow manages to detract from its real value.

With the gainful employment rule’s implementation on “for-profit” schools this month, the question is already being directed toward traditional colleges and universities. “If for-profits must face tougher regulations, shouldn’t similar standards be applied to non-profit colleges and universities? You know … student debt is increasing, so wouldn’t it be useful for students to know what their job chances are?”

Now, it depends on who you ask that question. For the audience who follows our work at Career College Central, the answer would be an unequivocal, “Yes!” Most – if not all – of us would like to see how non-profit schools measure up when it comes to placing students in actual positions related to their studies. Take the same question to a traditional college campus and you’re likely to get both yeses and nos. “Yeses” from students, “nos” from administrators.

Given all the debate about what an education is worth, students might be curious about what type of deal they’re getting at their alma mater. I doubt that many college presidents are rushing out to campus to survey them. We saw administrators offer excuses about why they should not be subjected to gainful employment in NPR’s report this week. If pressed for an answer about they should not be subject to gainful employment, their argument would sound something like this:

“The gainful employment situation comes down to promises,” they’ll say. “Our schools promise to impart a quality education on our graduates and nothing more.”

That sounds noble, but it also defines the problem. By offering less than career colleges, traditional colleges and universities aren’t accountable for nearly as much as the sector they look down upon.

What traditional colleges and universities believe should fit all institutions of higher learning. The price of an education can’t be determined because it has value beyond what you pay for it. The DOE, though, is insistent on applying a number to it, though. So perhaps administrators at America’s finest academic universities should tap the mathematics labs to find some mathematicians who can calculate that value for themselves.

I might have dated myself here with references to books, manageable phones and the like, but it’s easy to do so when the world moves so fast. I’m not ashamed that I graduated college in the 90s (let’s clarify, though – it was the late 90s). The college experience has changed significantly since then and so have many of the programs that hire graduates. Despite technology enhancements and changes in the way people prefer to learn, the essence of education should be the same.

The DOE has done the remarkable. They’ve undermined the true notion of education while holding certain schools accountable ultimately because they don’t trust them to impart an education without substantial oversight. The organization mired in the fallout in conspiring with short-sellers has set the educational standard for graduates of career colleges.

Today, the knowledge you gained from your schooling is not as important as the salary you make. We all know salary is a terrible way to judge someone’s worth. We probably all can agree it’s not the best way to assess the effectiveness of a program at a career college, either. We’re midway through the first month of the DOE’s rule and I’m already nostalgic for the days when what we were taught made us better people, not better paid.

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