The Privatization of Public Higher Education? (Opinion)

Sharon Rieger's picture

With area high school graduations behind us, I suspect that many families in Northwest Florida are gathering around the kitchen table to discuss an important family issue: “How in the world are we going to be able to pay for college?”

In a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans surveyed (57 percent) claimed that U.S. higher education fails to provide good value for the money they spend. A full 75 percent stated that college is too expensive for most Americans to afford.

At this same time, a number of critics are publishing opinions that a college education isn’t worth pursuing and are encouraging our nation’s youth to forgo furthering their education. It is ironic, of course, that the two leading critics happen to hold college degrees: one from Columbia and the other, Stanford.

This negative perception of the value of higher education is dangerous and runs the risk of leading recent high school graduates toward a life of economic struggle. In this same study, 86 percent of those holding a college degree said college was a good investment for them personally. The 2010 U.S. Census found that the average college graduate earned 38 percent, or $19,550, more per year than the average high school graduate.

Higher education is about much more than increased earnings, however. What’s the value of the non-economic benefits of an education — such as improved working conditions, increased community engagement and volunteerism, improved health, and a greater overall quality of life? As a major credit card advertisement states, it’s priceless.

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