Higher Education in America – too expensive, takes too much time, has a limited “shelf-life, and consists of a great deal of content that has limited practical value

I know that for some “education” is so sacrosanct that to even question this system may be viewed as heresy! But speaking as a NJ resident it’s getting to the point where many middle class families can potentially spend as much as (and even more than) $500,000 (yes I did the math) in education costs throughout ones life! Now mind you this is on a product that has limited practical value – how much of your education did you actually use in your profession - and doesn’t have a very long shelf life – how much does someone actually retain ! Lastly how productive is it economically and sociologically to make or encourage our young to spend nearly 20 years of their life sitting in classrooms?

Does anyone else feel this way? Does anyone else believe our higher education system is in need of drastic reform? Now I want to be clear on something, I’m not arguing that there is no role for public education. My contention is with higher education, specifically high school and college and how this system is currently working. I’m curious on how others feel and what reforms you think are needed?

Here are a few related articles specifically regarding the cost of college:

One size doesn’t fit all. Each individual will need to do what’s right for them.

Tuition was 600$ in the 1950’s.

In the 1970’s I was able to pay for my own college tuition by taking odd jobs. My parents were too poor to pay for my college education. I don’t recall whether student loans were an option at that time.

In any case, those days are likely gone forever.

My time as a student was positive and I have fond memories of university life. I was remarkably fortunate to have a family that could provide the means for me to achieve an education without going into debt, and I’m forever grateful for that privilege; not many are so lucky. Some additional thoughts:

  • I am currently a manager at my job, and while I do not use either of the degrees I earned for the position I would not have been considered for management without a college education. Fair or not, it’s just the way of things and a lot of businesses.
  • Have I retained everything I learned at university? Of course not, but it’s less about retaining specific facts and more about developing as a human being: learning how to read critically, write well and persuasively, how to research and analyze, expanding one’s horizons beyond one’s own limited direct experience of things, etc. In that regard higher education definitely helped me become a better person.
  • Is college for everyone? No. Can a person develop in the way I mention above without it? Yes, but I’d argue that without outside structure and guidance it’s difficult. I know I wouldn;t have had the discipline to do it on my own.
  • A university education is unfortunately very expensive, and the debt some people accrue to attain it can be a lifelong burden. If there were to be meaningful reform I would prefer it began with how it is financed. Personally, I consider education a matter of not just personal development but one of national security; as a nation we should strive to have the best educated citizenry in the world. As such I wouldn’t mind at all seeing a percentage of our current military budget siphoned off to fund higher education. (That ought to set some hair on fire!)
  • I think high school curriculum needs to do a better job of recognizing individual students’ needs and abilities; some will succeed in a traditional university setting, others will thrive in vocational programs, others still will finish their formal education when they receive their high school diploma. All are essential to the nation’s prosperity and should be recognized as such.

What ideas for reform do you have in mind?

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One of the things that we should be doing is placing a greater emphasis on trades.In NJ for example there is only one Vocational High School per county with maybe about 25 towns per county. Every school should have a Vo-tech program.

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I sympathize to some extent with some of the points you make, although I can easily make just as many counterpoints. I’ll give you just one for now. Some of the wealthiest and most successful people are actually college dropouts - Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, and many more. What happens in college classrooms is not magic and by and large much of the information and knowledge you get readily available for free - the biggest caveat albeit would be the STEM type majors.

The biggest objection I would have to what you say is that the problem being we need to put more money into higher education. In a state like NJ with property taxes being typically between $10-15,000 calculate that over say a 40 year period of owning a home and that would amount at least $250,000 just for K-12. When you add on paying for a 4 year degree you can easily add on $250,000 after to factor in interest over time. That’s absurd! The notion some raise about so-called “free” collage for all is completely asinine. It makes absolutely no sense for us to pay for average student to spend 4 years in college just so they can get some liberal arts degree.

Here’s a few reforms that are needed. First high school and college does not need to be 4 years. They also need to be much more real world focused, more so with high school. Parents and students should have more say in what they are going learn. We pay a ■■■■ load of money into this system yet have little to no voice on what our kids learn. This is one are where I think vouchers could be a good thing so that different high schools could develop and provide the consumer more choice. Regarding college it’s absurd say for an engineering major to be required to take a bunch of liberal arts courses, which will do nothing to make them a better engineer. All majors should be specifically focused and take no more than 2 years.

There is already a healthy system of 2 year colleges. They’re called community colleges/technical colleges.


You can go just two years and get say engineering or chemistry degree without having to take any liberal arts classes? Regarding the technical colleges are you talking about becoming a mechanic or electrician?

Even a state college in NJ is going to cost around $60,000 especially when you factor in costs of books, fees, etc. Although may students spend a heck of a lot more than that.

Employers want those “liberal arts” courses. They teach critical thinking, personal communication skills, higher level writing ability, etc. It is what it is.

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On that I agree with you. Speaking with a hairstylist recently, vacancies in the trades are going unfilled—barbers, beauticians, HVAC techs, plumbers.

Apparently it’s gotten to the point at that salon she told me, “If you know anyone with a Massachusetts cosmetology license, have ‘em come in & apply.” I do think, however, that one option may be on both preparing for college AND learning a trade.

Why not have both licensure to do a needed job AND a higher level education, if one wants the latter. The students may even leave school with a lower debt if they’re working full time in one of these trades.

The “liberal arts” courses, which some don’t regard as useful, are to expand one’s knowledge of subjects like language & history.

What good is an engineering degree, or architecture degree, for example, if one can’t express oneself in writing?


I would say it is debatable how much critical thinking one gets say for example in psych-101. Secondly student take all of theses liberal arts type classes in high school. Thirdly, you can develop more enough critical thinking skills from the classes related to your major. I’ll put it to you this way. when I got my first job out of college there was VERY LITTLE of what I did in college that made me a more productive worker for my company.

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Can’t agree here. Matter of fact, that’s one of my problems with the anti higher education movement—the idea that it’s the universities’ and colleges’ problems parents find it hard to pay.

Why are those who want their kids to go so badly there’s a shortage of tradesmen & women not expected to save money for their kids in a college fund?

Have they never heard of military service (brother & cop friend went that way)? Or ROTC (dad finished at Georgia Tech through Navy ROTC & served three years as an officer)?

How about employers like Starbucks, Chipotle Grill, public sector agencies that provide tuition reimbursement so that students can work full time & go to school part time, have plenty of work experience once they finish?

I’ll say it again everyone takes language and history in high school. One also takes writing in high school. Also I’m not opposed to there being some liberal arts requirements for say an engineering major so I would agree that a writing course could be helpful. That could also be done when you start working for a company and take night or weekend classes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the degree. I will say this again my history and language did NOTHING to enhance my productivity in my science related profession.

I do love (not being sarcastic here) the example of Psych 101.

A recently ex employee actually had a degree in psychology. Now I wish this guy the best wherever he is, but some of what came from him was bang your head against the wall ridiculously stupid.

For instance he’d claim he couldn’t understand depression. I’m sorry, WHAT?!

“Why do people get depressed? This isn’t a third world country where they have nothing.”

What in the blazes?! I do believe a psych degree takes at least one abnormal psych course, & no school I know doesn’t have a science requirement. Doesn’t he have a clue that some medication, from pain meds to hormonal bc, may have that side effect?!

So one would try to explain, & he’d come back with his same line of ■■■■■■■■.:exploding_head: So now, what’s really ridiculous is now some students are saying you aren’t going to get anywhere with a bachelors, but need a masters in some of these fields to find jobs (may be total nonsense, depending on the major field).

The sense of entitlement & lack of learning by some students blows my mind.:exploding_head:

I’m not sure I follow you here. are you saying that the cost of college is not a problem?

Thank you for the detailed response.

You’re right that we disagree on a few points, particularly your idea of reducing a college degree to just the core courses related to one’s major. I’m of the opinion that when it comes to academia an undergraduate liberal education needs to be liberal, not in terms of political ideology but in terms of the breadth of knowledge a student is exposed to. The goal is to develop a well-rounded individual who has a baseline knowledge of multiple fields (or at the least understands how to go about researching them), and the transmission of culture and cultural standards. That doesn’t take away from the specialized course work of the major’s requirements, nor does it take away from the specialization that occurs during graduate studies. Your suggestion essentially reduces university studies to vocation schooling, removing an element to the goals of academia that IMO is vital.

I agree that the cost of attaining those goals is too often prohibitive.

You should read some of the articles I posted in the OP. It was never intended as a system in which everyone would go to. It was understood in earlier societies that there was only a certain percentage of the society who were capable and who were needed for higher level thinking jobs for a functioning economy. That was one of the reasons few people went to college. Now the push is for everyone to go to college.