A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

An intriguing theory regarding the spiralling cost of college

Could our country decrease the number of H-1B visas if college were more affordable? Here's the theory from Jim Rapoza:
Now that the U.S. Congress is in session, we are once again seeing a push by the major technology companies to get an expansion to the H-1B visa program. As always, we are hearing the same complaint that America isn't producing enough qualified engineers and computer scientists to fill the needs of major American companies.

In the past I argued that it seemed crazy to say that there aren't enough technology workers available, when every one of us knows a few highly skilled technology workers who are either unemployed or underemployed.

But I do agree with the technology companies on one point. America isn't producing enough new qualified technology workers. And the main culprit is our failing higher education system.

I personally know a young man who is currently working toward an accelerated bachelor's and master's degree in engineering. An honors student in high school, he is currently in his sophomore year at a state school where he is maintaining grades consistently above a 3.5 average.

So far, so good. Sounds like a perfect future candidate for those desperate tech firms. But this year he seriously considered dropping out of the program and may face a similar decision next year.

What's the problem? As a middle-class kid living at home with his single mom, he can barely afford to continue at the state college he is attending.

Sure, as an honors student he received a decent number of scholarships. And he gets a good amount of student loans. But the scary thing now is that even at a state school, this young man is facing a bill well over $12,000 per semester. With the scholarships barely making a dent in this bill, by the time he gets his master's he could be facing a student loan debt over $100,000.

This boggles the mind. Twenty years ago I attended a private university for much less than this. And at that time friends of mine attending these same state schools paid very little per semester and left college with almost no student loan debt.

How could things have changed so much? The state school system was supposed to be the path to success for the middle class. Now they can't afford to attend without mortgaging their future. It would be one thing if salaries had grown similarly, but a kid getting out of college today isn't making that much more in initial salary than those who graduated in 1990.

And, oh yeah, it doesn't escape the notice of this young man that a majority of his professors come from overseas, where in the vast majority of cases they attended college for free. Can you believe that we are raising a generation of bright kids who sit around wishing they had been born in another country so they could get an education in the field that they love?

I look at the amount of money that some of these technology firms are putting into pushing to get H-1B visas expanded (and to expand their own presence in other countries) and I wonder what that money could do if it were redirected to help the future technologists of America.

How many kids who are now thinking about leaving could finally get their degrees without the fear of crushing debt? How many future technologists who have given up on even attending college could feel safer making the decision to get a science degree?

In a recent statement in support of expanding H-1B visas, Roger Cochetti of the Computing Technology Industry Association said, "It's all part of keeping America competitive."

Well, I'm sorry, but when it comes to keeping America competitive, the key battle isn't in letting in more smart people from other countries; it's in making sure that the future smart people from here don't end up getting left behind.

Amen. When I went to a private university in the 1980s, with the help of loans and scholarships, I managed to eke out a degree even though we were a one-income working class family. It really wasn't a question of not being able to afford college, since I had also been accepted at three state schools that were rolling in oil money. Now I see my students facing the prospect of 10 times as much debt as I accumulated just to go to a regional university.

Most of the pressure seems to be states cutting back on their support of higher education in their budgets, or at least that's what the officials at these colleges claim. It's ridiculous. A state that cuts back on education soon finds itself short of educated workers.

It's elementary.

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At 11/6/07, 6:32 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

Interesting that you post this today, Ms. Cornelius; I just finished reading 'Bugs's entry here http://eatsbugs.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/loan-problem/

As a society, our priorities are all fubar-ed...

At 11/7/07, 7:53 AM, Blogger PaganQuill said...

Being you're in Oklahoma, you'll get this well, but it seems like more state universities are more concerned with being shiny and having new things than they are about having students actually go. Well, good students go, cause we know they aren't suffering much in way of attendance.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Don't be a stranger! (eatsbugs)

At 11/8/07, 9:45 AM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I couldn't agree more. My daughter's 11, and I'm already freaked out over the cost of her education. I understand things are very different in Canada, and that even an American kid can attend McGill University for considerably less than, say, Columbia in NY.

The GOP says protect the fetuses until they're born. After that, they're on their own.

At 11/9/07, 7:13 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

And that spiraling cost of education is why we don't see enough math and science teachers - they can make more money in private industry and might be able to pay off their college loans.

At 11/9/07, 11:36 PM, Blogger Smithie said...

How are we as educators supposed to tell our students that "college will give you a better life"? "College will result in a lifelong debt that you will carry with you for ever" seems much more accurate.

At 11/20/07, 12:32 PM, Blogger Orlando said...

Which state and which university are you guys talking about ? I teach at a public university in Georgia (USA :) and our tuition is less than $1500 per semester; even at GATech and UGA, our flagship universities, it is less than 2K. Plus we have HOPE scholarships, which means students with decent grades pay no tuition (besides normal financial aid).

So, which state are you talking about ?


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