How to reinvent college

Tim Goral's picture
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ask a 17-year-old about college and you’ll probably hear the word “fit.” It’s the most pervasive and elusive metaphor of the college search: a quasi-religious, quasi-romantic sense of rightness that descends on students as they tour the manicured lawns of the perfect school, the one that feels, in some mystical way, like a good fit.

The hazy imprecision of this notion is a triumph of college marketing. Many colleges hope that whims and intangibles will guide student decisions. It’s simply not in their interest to encourage students to think closely about the economics of their choice.

Consider Kelsey Griffith, who fell in love with Ohio Northern University, and heeded the school’s advice to “get over the sticker shock” of its tuition. She graduated with $120,000 in loans. While a six-figure debt load is rare for undergraduate borrowers, it’s common for students to select a college based more on impulse and intuition than data.

Jeffrey Selingo, an editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education, thinks college in America is poised to change in fundamental ways. In College (Un)bound, he identifies signs of the current system’s imminent demise and surveys the disruptive forces that are changing the experience of college for millions of students.

Some resources, like the popular website Payscale, already provide data on projected income sorted by school and major. Though the figures are partial and based on self-reporting, the site enables parents and students to calculate return on investment based on the cost of attending a given college and the projected earnings of its graduates by major.

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