When choosing a college, too few students or parents factor in sky-high tuition rates and the burden of student loan debt, which in the U.S. now tops a trillion dollars. In a few days, student loan rates are set to double unless Congress steps in. And more graduates are finding their skills out of sync with the job market, making evaluating the real value of a college education more important than ever. Kojo looks at what’s in store for the U.S. higher education system.


  • Jeff Selingo Editor-at-large, Chronicle of Higher Education; author, "College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means For Students"


  • 13:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's supposed to be a ticket to long term financial prosperity. Every school year, hundreds of thousands of young people graduate from American colleges and universities, emerging triumphant after four years of cramming for tests, expanding their intellectual horizons and, yes, indulging in the occasional party.

  • 13:07:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut millions of young people are dealing with a financial hangover years and decades after they leave the quad, squeezed by student loan debt and the job market. Next week the outlook could get dimmer still. Federal student loan rates are set to double on July 1st unless Congress kicks into action.

  • 13:07:38

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's all enough to make you wonder, is a college degree worth the cost anymore? Joining us to discuss this is Jeffery Selingo. He is editor at large of the "Chronicle of Higher Education" and author of a new book called "College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education And What it Means for Students." Jeffery Selingo, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:56

    MR. JEFFREY SELINGOIt's great to be here.

  • 13:07:57

    NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, give us a call, 800-433-8850. What would you change about higher education in the U.S.? 800-433-8850 or send us email to kojo@wamu.org. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Jeffery Selingo, the average student borrower is $27,000 in debt.

  • 13:08:24

    NNAMDIBut some economists point out that unlike credit card debt, student loan is a good kind of debt because paying for college is the same as making an investment. Does that logic still hold up today?

  • 13:08:36

    SELINGOIt does for the most part but the problem is that student debt is increasing every year, so actually the current class that just graduated last month is now $30,000 on average in debt. And the problem is, those are averages so obviously there's many students above that, obviously some students below that.

  • 13:08:53

    SELINGOBut everyone's taking out some kind of loan in that way and they're sometimes not going to schools that necessarily pay off as well as others. And they sometimes might not be majoring in something that pays off as others. So we've talked so much about kind of the return on investment for higher education for decades now. But we've always talked about averages instead of talking about what does a particular degree from a particular institution get you.

  • 13:09:16

    NNAMDICongress has just a few days left to address the rise in student loan rates. If it doesn't, the rates on federally subsidized loans will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The issue has Congress stuck in gridlock with both Republicans and Democrats claiming they have students' best interests in mind. Ultimately though, how much does this debate actually matter?

  • 13:09:38

    SELINGOIt doesn't really matter as much as I think we think it does, right. It plays for good politics but at the end of the day, there's a couple of different estimates on how much this would save students but it'll probably save students about $22.00 a month in terms of interest. And I think there's much bigger issues that Congress should be dealing with on higher education but this plays very well politically.

  • 13:09:57

    SELINGOBut remember, it only includes new loans and it only includes federally subsidized loans, those are loans that go to low income students. It doesn't include the parent loans that are on the increase and it doesn't include private loans which increasingly students are also taking out to fill in the gaps when they don't get enough financial aid from their colleges.

  • 13:10:15

    NNAMDI$22.00 a month is less than half my phone bill.

  • 13:10:18

    SELINGOI know, it is. It's less than most people's phone bill and again, you know, not discounting what the debt that students are in when they graduate from college but I think, again, there are bigger issues that Congress should be dealing with right now when it comes to higher education.

  • 13:10:33

    NNAMDINot that it's completely inconsequential but it's clearly not as much as most people think it is. In a ruling on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to evaluate the practice of affirmative action, sending the case back to a lower court.

  • 13:10:47

    NNAMDISupporters of affirmative action see the program as, you know, essential to providing equal access to our nations' institutions. You've actually written that colleges are doing a poor job of increasing class based equality on U.S. campuses. What are they doing wrong?

  • 13:11:03

    SELINGOWell, we have a very divided higher education system. If you come from a family that makes over $90,000 in this country, you have a one in two chance of getting a bachelor's degree by the time you're 25. If you come from a family under $35,000 you have a one in 17 chance of getting a bachelor's degree by the time you're 25.

  • 13:11:21

    SELINGOSo we've a very big divide on who gets higher education in this country, not only who gets to go to college but who actually completes a degree. And this is a really big problem, I think, as many more students are coming down and through the pipeline into college coming from those lower income families.

  • 13:11:37

    NNAMDIThe government now offers federal loans to any student at an accredited institution no matter his or her income. How could Congress incentivize institutions to enroll and graduate specifically low income students?

  • 13:11:51

    SELINGOWell, and that's the problem, right, and so this debate, for example, over the interest rates at colleges and universities treat every college and university the same. Whether you go to a college that only graduates 25 percent of its students or you go to a college that graduates 90 percent of its students.

  • 13:12:05

    SELINGOAnd so I think that instead of kind of treating colleges all the same, Congress should use the federal money that it has, whether that's in Pell grants or in student loan money, to reward colleges that do things that we think are important, such as enrolling and graduating more low and middle income students.

  • 13:12:23

    SELINGOAnd not only enrolling them but also graduating them because getting a college degree, you know, getting the degree is what matters, not collecting a bunch of credits.

  • 13:12:31

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Jeffery Selingo, he is editor at large of the "Chronicle of Higher Education," a columnist and author of a new book called "College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students."

  • 13:12:43

    NNAMDITaking your questions and comments at 800-433-8850. How much do you think a college education is worth? You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. Let's hear from Katie, in Woodbine, Md. Katie, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:13:01

    KATIEHey there, Kojo, thanks for taking my call. So I've been in college for going on a decade now. I got my associates degree, then my bachelor's degree and now I'm about to finish up my graduate degree in psychology counseling and I have accrued approximately a little over $1,000 in debt. I'm sorry, $30,000 in debt.

  • 13:13:26

    NNAMDII was about to say.

  • 13:13:26

    SELINGOThat's a good deal.

  • 13:13:28

    KATIEYes, yes, that would be lucky, wouldn't it? $30,000 and I haven't even begun, you know, my career and it's really weighing heavily on my future and what my options are because I have a loan that I received from my bachelor's degree that has already accrued almost $5,000 in interest on top of the loan itself.

  • 13:13:56

    KATIESo it just feels like I'm getting deeper and deeper underwater with the interest rates on top of the loans and furthermore, the career path that I have chosen really does require me to continue on even further to get my Ph.D. or my Psy.D. in order to be able to make enough money to then pay back my loans before I die.

  • 13:14:20

    KATIESo it's kind of, it feels like an uphill neverending battle when it comes to the interest rates and just the debt that I wound up accruing. Is it worth it? I don't, I can't really...

  • 13:14:35

    NNAMDIKatie feels like she's caught up in a catch 22 situation.

  • 13:14:38

    SELINGOWell, and I think what, she brings up two points. First of all, I think $30,000 for how much education she's had is a really good deal. The rule of thumb is that especially at the undergraduate level you should not take out more in loans or have more in debt than you would in making in your first job, all right.

  • 13:14:55

    SELINGOThe average college graduate, their first year out is making mid-30s so $30,000 is actually pretty reasonable. But she brings up another point and that's this idea of what I call, what a lot of people call credential creep, right. So jobs that used to require just a high school diploma now require a two year degree or a four year degree, you know, and jobs that used to require just a bachelor's degree are now requiring master's degrees, in some cases Ph.D.s.

  • 13:15:21

    SELINGOAnd this is especially true in the health care field. So, you know, nursing which used to just require, you know, an RN and sometimes a bachelor's degree now is requiring more and more education and thus its costing students more and more to get that education.

  • 13:15:36

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Katie, and good luck to you. Move on to E.W. in Silver Spring, Md. E.W. your turn.

  • 13:15:44

    E.W.Hello Kojo, great topic, great show all the time, thank you very much.

  • 13:15:47

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:15:48

    E.W.Just wanted to say a couple of things in regards to higher education. I think it's great when it pans out. However, I think in time it's shown that so many times that it doesn't and especially in these economic times when a lot of students come home after graduation looking for jobs. The return on investment as you all have said seems to be very low if you look at overall numbers.

  • 13:16:11

    E.W.And I heard the statement, you know, what does the right school do for you or, you know, if you go to the right school. I think that statement speaks more to prestige than it does, you know, the actual person because you can go to the right school and not have any, you know, advantage if you're not going to put in the work. So at the end of the day I think it's the individual.

  • 13:16:31

    E.W.And then finally there are, you know, occupations that surround my occupation, I'm in real estate, and electricians, plumbers, seem to do very well for themselves and I don't see us pushing things like that, nor do I see us, you know, suggesting, you know, real estate, which is always something that we're going to have to tend with when it comes to our youth. Just wanted to get a thought on...

  • 13:16:54

    NNAMDIE.W., thank you very much for your call. I'll have Jeffery Selingo share his thoughts with you.

  • 13:16:59

    SELINGOSo first of all, he brings up at the end there a good point about technical degrees and, in fact, now several states, including the state of Virginia, allow people to go on a website and look at real time salaries. So they're looking at salaries from the unemployment insurance database and matching them up with college graduates.

  • 13:17:14

    SELINGOSo you can see how much a business graduate from George Mason makes as compared to an English major at the University of Virginia. And what they found overall is that two year technical degrees, that first year out of college actually pay on average several thousand dollars more than a four year bachelor's degree, which by the way you only need two years to get that technical degree and you have to be out of the workforce and paying for four years of college.

  • 13:17:37

    SELINGONow over time a four year degree does pay off, but we're now starting to see, we now have data, and again we have it in five states, including Virginia. We now have data on what a degree from a specific institution in a specific field pays. And I think that's a really important piece of information. Not the only piece but a really piece of important information for parents to have.

  • 13:17:58

    NNAMDIIn 2011 the government put stricter limits on federal lending to parents of college students. It meant that parents with bad credit history couldn't take out federal student loans but "The Washington Post" reports that this change disproportionally affected historically black colleges like Howard University here in Washington. How are upcoming changes in higher education, in your view, going to affect disadvantaged students?

  • 13:18:20

    SELINGOWell, I think that the changes that were put on parent loans are incredibly important because we've seen as the price of higher education has gone way up over the last decade, but the amount of federal student loans has remained essentially the same, is that students and families had to look elsewhere for money.

  • 13:18:36

    SELINGOAnd so that's why they go and get private loans which are not given out by the government, carry higher interest rates and are not designed by the government, and increasingly colleges are pushing them towards these parent plus loans which are given out by the federal government but carry a very high interest rate and in many cases, colleges have doubled the amount of parent plus loans they've given out over the last couple of years.

  • 13:18:59

    SELINGOAnd I really worry about, I mean, there's one thing for a student to have a large debt coming out of college at 22 and they have a long time to pay that off. But do we really want to be saddling parents in their 50s, you know, 10 years from retirement with a large amount of debt, 20, 30, 50, $60,000 to pay for their child.

  • 13:19:17

    NNAMDIHow big of a problem is that inter-generational (unintelligible) ?

  • 13:19:21

    SELINGOIt's becoming a bigger problem as college prices have gone up. So the volume of parent plus loans has doubled in the last 10 years and so this a very big issue especially at very expensive, private schools. And so I don't think we really want to be putting parents into debt in order to pay for their son or daughter's education because you don't need to go into debt to pay for your son or daughter's education.

  • 13:19:42

    SELINGOThere's enough options out there for your son or daughter to go to less expensive schools and get the financial aid and the loans that they need to go there.

  • 13:19:51

    NNAMDI800-433-8850, do you think there should be limits on how much debt students can take on? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Here is Brian in Silver Spring, Md. Brian, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:20:05

    BRIANGood afternoon, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I don't think that there should be a limit but I think that students need to think of themselves as consumers and where am I going to put my money and what type of return of investment am I going to get? My own personal situation was growing up in northern Virginia, middle class. I couldn't afford big expensive schools. I sought out, did my research, went to my undergrad with no debt. I have a master's degree. I got federal loans that I paid off in nine years, a year earlier than the ten-year plan.

  • 13:20:45

    BRIANBut I made decisions that didn't put myself in, you know, tons of debt now that I'm in my late 30s. And I think that we just need to educate young people instead of, oh at some point I'm going to get a job and I'm going to be able to pay off $200,000 in loans. I mean, that's just ridiculous. Take your money elsewhere. Take your investment elsewhere. And I think, you know, it just stems from a whole problem in our society about buying everything on credit.

  • 13:21:16

    NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Jeffrey Selingo?

  • 13:21:18

    SELINGOWell, I think part of this handwringing over student loans and student debt right now is because of the macro trends in the economy, right. This is a very tough economy for college students to graduate in. You know, unemployment among recent college graduates is around 9 percent. This class that just graduated last month reported you know, most students applied for 40-plus jobs in this economy.

  • 13:21:39

    SELINGOSo I think that part of this is this handwringing. And the fact of the matter is is that over your lifetime, someone with a college degree is going to be -- is less likely to be unemployed and is going to make more money than somebody without a college degree. So we really have to look at the long term benefits of higher education. But as that caller and other callers have pointed out, you do not want to go deep into debt. And when I say -- you know, over borrowing to pay for an undergraduate degree if you're not quite sure of the return on that.

  • 13:22:10

    SELINGOWhen I say over borrowing, I'm talking 50 plus thousand dollars because that's not -- those are not the kinds of debt that you want to have starting out after college.

  • 13:22:18

    NNAMDIJeffrey Selingo told the New York Times that all colleges need more skin in the student loan game. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, he'll explain exactly what he meant by that. You can also join the conversation. Call us at 800-433-8850. Do you have student debt? How long will it take you to pay it off, 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:24:22

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about rethinking higher education with Jeffrey Selingo, editor-at-large of the Chronicle of Higher Education, columnist and leading authority on higher education. His book is called "College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students." He joins us in studio. You can join us by phone. 800-433-8850 is the number. What would you change about higher education in the U.S.? If the phone lines are busy you can shoot us an email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 13:24:52

    NNAMDIJeff Selingo, you told the New York Times that all colleges need more skin in the student loan game. As is many colleges don't see it as their responsibility to make sure that students don't take on too much debt. How would you restructure the student loan program so that universities would also be accountable?

  • 13:25:10

    SELINGOSo universities need some risk in this, right. They need to put some of their own money at risk. So all of this money is coming courtesy of the federal government. It's the colleges and universities that are enrolling these students, encouraging them to take on this debt and then somebody else takes all the risk. And then those students graduate from those colleges and then they're stuck with the bill. And the only way that colleges are thrown out of the program is if they're default rate -- meaning their graduates are not paying back their loans at a high enough rate. And that's a pretty high bar.

  • 13:25:38

    SELINGOAnd so most colleges continue in the program even if a lot of their students are not paying back those loans. So there needs to be more -- they need to have more skin in the game. And the way to have that, in my opinion, is to have them put some of their own dollars at risk so that they're kind of taking a credit risk on these students just as banks do and others do when they're lending out money. And so that it doesn't just come on the backs of the federal government, given that they're the ones accepting these students.

  • 13:26:05

    NNAMDIHow would you incentivize colleges to do that?

  • 13:26:07

    SELINGOWell, I think that this would be the only way that they would be allowed to participate in the federal loan program is to put some of their own money at risk.

  • 13:26:16

    NNAMDIYou talk about the students who graduate, but about a third of students who take on student debt don't end up graduating. In fact, you write that close to half of Americans who enter college end up dropping out. What's happening?

  • 13:26:28

    SELINGOThis is a big problem. You know, 400,000 students drop out of college every year. And I think part of the issue here is money, that students go to college. They're not quite sure how they're going to make up the bills. So they get so much in financial aid but the bill is bigger than that. They're not quite sure how they're going to fill that gap. They think someone's going to kind of come in and save them. And they end up working and they end up working too much sometimes. And that really impacts their studies and then they thus can't stay in school.

  • 13:26:54

    SELINGOI also met a lot of students, in reporting this book, who weren't quite ready for college, especially at 18. I really do think that everybody needs to have some education after high school. And that could be a two-year degree or a four-year degree or other types of education. But the problem is that we force a lot of people to go to college at 18 because there are very few other options in the U.S., right.

  • 13:27:13

    SELINGOYou could go into the military, you could go to work and not get a very good job usually or you can kind of sit at home. And so many students choose to go to college and they're not really mature. They're not quite sure what they want to do. They kind of roam around and they rack up a lot of debt. And they end up dropping out because they don't see the benefit of going to college.

  • 13:27:31

    SELINGOI think if we had more structured experiences for those students, national service or other type of structured experiences, they do that for a couple of years, they mature, they get a sense of self and what they want to do and then they go to college.

  • 13:27:44

    NNAMDIDo colleges have currently any real incentive for ensuring that students who enroll end up graduating?

  • 13:27:49


  • 13:27:51

    NNAMDIOnto the telephones then. Here is Steve in Washington, D.C. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:27:57

    STEVEHi. I just wanted to point out that study called "Education Pays" by an economist named Sandy Baum, that calculates the return on investment for each additional year of postsecondary education. And even as onerous as student debt is -- I'm not defending the levels of student debt -- her study quantifies that the return on investment exceeds the level of debt even if you drop out of school after a year or two years.

  • 13:28:30

    STEVEI was very surprised when I read this but I think it's important to keep that in mind because there's this growing narrative that maybe it's not worth it for many young people to go to college.

  • 13:28:44

    NNAMDIJeff Selingo?

  • 13:28:45

    SELINGOWell, you know, I've been saying, you know, since the program started, that going to college is definitely worth it compared to graduating just from high school. But the problem -- and as he points out in terms of "Education Pays" -- those are averages, right. And so I think that students and parents need to be armed just like consumers are about individual institutions and even individual majors and what are the paybacks of those.

  • 13:29:07

    SELINGOSo it is worth going to, you know, George Washington University or American University and going $50,000 in debt if the job you have is probably only going to pay you $25,000 for the first ten years after college? That's the kind of return on investment data that we need. We need to get down to the institutional level. And colleges and universities need to stop hanging on to these national averages.

  • 13:29:32

    NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Bob in Urbana, Md. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:29:38

    BOBThank you, Kojo. We need more of this conversation. It's very important. The solution I feel immediately that what the government could do is lower the interest rates on both the subsidized and unsubsidized loans to zero. By doing that they would be investing in our future, our youth. They need to do that. If they don't do that now, you know, we're going to have a big problem even on housing.

  • 13:30:02

    BOBNow, I'm in the real estate business but all of these students, if they apply for a loan to buy a house in the future, guess what? They're going to have this big debt and they may not be able to qualify, which could lower housing prices in the future. The solution -- one other solution, in my opinion, is a family could buy a house -- a rental house with an FHA loan, have tenant rent pay for their student's future education.

  • 13:30:32

    BOBNow that's exactly what my wife and I did and my son just graduated from American University. And that whole debt was paid -- actually he went to University of Maryland prior to that -- by buying a rental property. The tenant paid off the mortgage and were able to pay off the student loan.

  • 13:30:49

    NNAMDIWell, I'm not sure the tenant liked that very much but, I don't know. What do you say, Jeffrey Selingo?

  • 13:30:54

    SELINGOWell, that probably worked...

  • 13:30:54

    NNAMDIPeople come up with their own solutions.

  • 13:30:55

    SELINGOYeah, the tenant probably works in a place like D.C. where you have, you know, high housing prices and you're able to do that. I think zero -- first of all, you know, these loans...

  • 13:31:02

    NNAMDI...zero percent (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:31:03

    SELINGO...yeah, these loans cost -- you know, they cost the government money. You know, for subsidized loans they pay the interest for students while they're in school. The government takes on a lot of risk with these loans because we talk about students who don't pay them back, right. They don't have to go through a credit check like you do for most other loans.

  • 13:31:20

    SELINGOI think the real solution here though is a program that actually exists today but is not very well utilized and is not very broad, and that's the idea of income-based contingent loans. And that's basically where the government loans you money and you pay back the loans based on your income for the ten years after graduation. There's a number of other countries, including Australia, that have programs like this -- much more broad-based programs like this than we have here in the U.S.

  • 13:31:44

    SELINGOI think we should move to a system that's much more like that, that base is kind of your payback of your loans on how much you're actually making after graduation.

  • 13:31:52

    NNAMDIWell, here's what Beth has to say about that, "Twenty-two dollars a month may not be the right way to frame the extra debt accumulated from higher interest rates over the life of a loan repayment. That extra $22 a month really adds up. It also contributes to an inability to pay off the loan faster as you're simply paying off the interest for so long. I have no problem paying my undergrad loans, since interest rates were so low when I graduated in 2005. However, my graduate loans do have interest rates of 6.8 percent. And as your caller just stated, I had already accrued extra interest before even graduating in May, 2011. I feel that I haven't even toughed the principal amounts after steadily paying them for 18 months now."

  • 13:32:33

    SELINGOWell, I mean, yeah, so $22 does add up. It's about $2600 over the course of a ten-year loan. And I think the real issue here that this person who emailed you brings up is graduate debt, right. So when we hear of students, you know, who are a hundred-thousand plus dollars in debt, much of that usually is at the graduate level, you know, law school, medical school, other graduate degrees. It's really hard in some cases for an undergraduate to have over $100,000 in debt. And if they do, usually it includes credit cards and, I think somewhere along the way, they made a mistake and over borrowed.

  • 13:33:07

    NNAMDIHere now is Susan in Ellicott City, Md. Susan, your turn.

  • 13:33:12

    SUSANHi, Kojo. I'd like to make a comment on a couple of these points. And first of all, there is college education available on so many levels in this country that we are truly blessed. And just as if my way of living and money does not support me buying a couture gown from Oscar de la Renta for $30,000, my children can't buy designer education that they can't afford either. And (unintelligible) ...

  • 13:33:38

    NNAMDIWell, let me stop with that for a second and ask you to hold your next question, Susan, because according to Forbes, the most expensive college in 2012 was Sarah Lawrence College, where undergraduates could expect to pay as much as $60,000 a year for tuition, room and board and fees. Before students or parents even wonder how they're going to cover the cost, the question on their mind is probably, why is this college so expensive? What is driving up the cost of higher education in the U.S.?

  • 13:34:06

    SELINGOPeople. It's heavily people oriented, right. And unlike other efficiencies that we found in other parts of the economy, right, especially where technology has enabled us to use fewer people to do the same amount of work, and in many cases, more work, you can't do that in higher ed. as much, right. So it still takes one professor to teach, you know, 15 or 20 students just like it did in 1980, no matter how much technology you put into the system. Now I think that's about to change in the next five or ten years.

  • 13:34:33

    SELINGOAnd the thing about Sarah Lawrence -- and there's about now 250 or 280 colleges that charge over $50,000 a year in this country -- is that a lot of students don't pay that amount, right. So that's the sticker price. It's almost like when you go and buy a car. Very few people actually pay that sticker price because tuition now on average is discounted by 42 percent at most colleges and universities, so you get some money back.

  • 13:34:56

    SELINGOAnd that's sometimes why they need to increase the price because they use the higher -- you know, they use subsidies from some students paying the full price to help other students pay for tuition. It's like almost being on an airplane, right, where the guy or woman sitting next to you probably paid half the amount you did.

  • 13:35:15

    NNAMDIBack to you, Susan.

  • 13:35:16

    SUSANWell, Kojo, I feel very strongly that a lot of this conversation scares off parents from ever believing that they're going to be able to afford to help their children through college. I do feel very strongly that there is a lack of financial education, that our children, when they go to take on loans, I think there needs to be institutional responsibility that does not loan $100,000 toward a kid getting a social service degree that will never earn the kind of income that they'll be able to substantially pay that back.

  • 13:35:47

    SUSANI also feel though that once you take a loan, you don't deserve a free education. That is your obligation and I don't believe that our government -- translation, us, me, our taxpayers -- have an obligation to forgive student loans. They need to be taken with full responsibility, with total transparency, with parents' institutions and financial institutions being very honest. And, you know, a kid that's not going to make more than $50,000 a year, that needs to be discussed on the forefront. We can't pretend that you're smart enough to go to college but you're not smart enough to make these kind of obligations.

  • 13:36:25

    NNAMDIGot an email from John in Arlington who said, "What did students expect when they borrowed $100,000 to go to a private school in an expensive city to study disciplines with very few job prospects like film" -- or broadcasting. (laugh) "Of course they won't get a job and can't pay the debt. If high school seniors can't do the financial math then I don't think they're college material to start with. Colleges shouldn't let them matriculate."

  • 13:36:47

    SELINGOYou know, going to college is a very emotional decision. And I think part of the problem with this is that you start thinking about college early on in high school, 9th or 10th grade. You know, a lot of families start going to visit colleges. They show them -- these colleges show them all the bells and whistles, the beautiful residents halls, the climbing walls, the sushi in the dining hall, etcetera, etcetera. And you kind of fall in love with the place, right.

  • 13:37:08

    SELINGOYou come to Washington. I want to go to GW, I want to go to American. And then you apply, you get in. And only then do you really know when you get the financial aid offer -- usually sometimes, by the way, four, eight, ten weeks before you have to say I'm going or not going -- only then do you know how much this thing costs. And think about this when -- and any other thing in our economy, right. We go and buy a car, we go and look at a house. You know, we know up front how much we can afford. And we only -- yeah, sometimes, yeah, maybe we'll look at that Lamborghini, but we know we can't afford it. So we'll go look at the Kia instead.

  • 13:37:39

    SELINGOThis doesn't work this way in higher ed. You might have a general idea because of the thing called the net price calculator that the federal government now requires every college and university to have. It gives you a general idea of what somebody in your family's financial situation might pay. But for the most part, college decisions are driven by emotion, not by financial realities.

  • 13:38:00

    NNAMDISusan, thank you very much for your call. New York University faculty members say the school is starting a multibillion dollar expansion project. But at the same time it has the most indebted group of students in the country.

  • 13:38:12

    SELINGOOh, not only that. New York Times reported last week that it gives its executives mortgages on their second home...

  • 13:38:19

    NNAMDITop faculty members, yes.

  • 13:38:20

    SELINGO...and top faculty members second mortgages on their vacation homes on Fire Island...

  • 13:38:25

    NNAMDISecond vacation homes, that's right.

  • 13:38:26

    SELINGO...there in the Hamptons. Yes.

  • 13:38:28

    NNAMDIWhy do universities rack up those kinds of costs with expansions and second homes and new degree programs rather than work to eliminate the cost of their education?

  • 13:38:38

    SELINGOBecause they can do it. Sometimes colleges and universities charge what they do because they can. And there are some colleges and universities in this country that are kind of very hot in that way, right. They have hot brands. We have one in this town in George Washington University. It's a very hot brand among people outside of -- especially outside of D.C. And they think it's worth paying 50, $60,000 to go there. NYU's another one, Boston University.

  • 13:39:03

    SELINGOSo there are these private universities in big cities that are very popular with a subset of Americans. And they think it's worth paying that much money to go there.

  • 13:39:12

    NNAMDIHere is Sarah in Camp Springs, Md. Sarah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:39:17

    SARAHHi, I'm a nurse and I paid for my nursing degree in cash. I went to a community college and got an excellent education, I believe. but one of the things that i did, you know, knowing that i was going to a community college is that hospitals will often pay a portion or percentage of a higher degree, either a bachelor's degree or even a master's degree or nurse practitioner as long as you agree to continue to work there for a certain number of years.

  • 13:39:47

    SARAHAnd I was wondering if there's any other field, besides health care, especially nursing, that offer those kind of bonuses, you know, if you go in with a lesser degree and they up the ante. Especially as a lot of magnet hospitals do in order to try and get that magnet status. They want a certain percentage of their nurses to have that bachelor's or master's degree. Are there any other fields of study or careers that offer that kind of bonus?

  • 13:40:20

    SELINGOThere are other fields, mainly because, you know, in nursing and health care in general, or mostly those fields because, you know, we need workers in those fields, but I think the caller brings up a really important point in that people have a lot of options, right? So even think about a place like Washington D.C. where you have, you know, great Montgomery County Community College. You have Northern Virginia Community College. You have the University of Maryland. You have George Mason University.

  • 13:40:35

    SELINGOSo you have public options that are actually very good. A third of students now transfer colleges at least once before they earn a bachelor's degree. So increasingly students are swirling through college. They're not necessarily going to one place and spending four years there. So I think it's really important for people to remember that, you know, we tend to talk about places like, you know, Harvard, or American or GW, but there are many options for students, and particularly, I think community colleges are a great deal for students to think -- especially if they don't know what they want to do, to kind of get a bunch of courses out of the way and explore a little bit for those first two years of college.

  • 13:41:15

    SELINGOGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there, or shoot us an email to kojo@wamu.org. How prepared were you for the job market when you graduated? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:19

    NNAMDIWe're rethinking higher education with Jeffrey Selingo, editor-at-large of the Chronicle of Higher Education, author of a new book called "College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students." Federal data shows that universities have recently stepped up the number of master's degrees that they're sending out into the world. What do you think is boosting the market for master's degrees?

  • 13:43:42

    SELINGOWell, it's the credential creep that I was talking about earlier. So master's degrees now are the new bachelor's. Bachelor's are the new high school degree. And in many ways, I think colleges, especially over the last ten years, in a way to boost the number of students coming in the door, created a bunch of new majors. So now you need a degree in entrepreneurship, or you need a degree in sustainability or sports management. Things that, by the way, 20 years ago you didn't need a degree but you still could into those fields.

  • 13:44:10

    SELINGOAnd increasingly now, they want people who can be specialized, and so they're offering these degrees. The question that I have is whether employers really want them. And so the question is whether it's the cart before the horse here where employers, you know, colleges say, well, employers want them, but really, colleges are creating these degrees, employees see a lot of students coming through the door with that on their resume, and then they say, oh, maybe we should require a master's degree for this, and suddenly it's kind of a neverending loop as a result.

  • 13:44:38

    NNAMDITechnology has upended a couple of unsuspecting industries, including journalism. How do you think technology like online courses could reshape how we think about higher education?

  • 13:44:50

    SELINGOWell, I think that the injection of technology is really going to be the disruptive force in higher education. I don't think online education is actually going to replace what we think of as the physical campus. Most 18 year olds do not want to go to college online all the time. You know, they want to actually go to a physical campus. Where I see the biggest change in the next ten years is the use of hybrid courses.

  • 13:45:09

    SELINGOSo this is the idea where instead of going to class three days a week, you go to a physical classroom one day a week and you do the rest of the work online. And in some ways, this may be better, right? Because most of the time you don't necessarily need to sit in a classroom where a person is just lecturing at you while you sit in the back of the room reading the newspaper or increasingly surfing Facebook. So in some ways, I think that the educational outcomes of this might be better, and in some cases will be cheaper.

  • 13:45:35

    NNAMDIOn now to David in Baltimore, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:45:42

    DAVIDHi. I just wanted to tell everybody I'm really glad we're having this conversation. I would use the term bubble -- it's a higher education bubble. I went to the University of Maryland in College Park, and I was also in the Army as an enlisted man. And in my experience, I learned far more, you know, real world skills and applicable, you know, skill sets, four years in the Army as an enlisted man than I ever did in college. I could be at the same point where I am today just four years younger had I not gone to college.

  • 13:46:09

    DAVIDEssentially what I do now is the same job that Edward Snowden does, and I learned it in the Army. They taught me, and they taught me while I was being paid, and I'm just glad we're having this conversation at like a national level. The book that brought me into was by Aaron Clarey. It's called "Worthless," and I'd advise any young person today who's thinking of going to college, please read that book. It will save you a lot of pain.

  • 13:46:33

    NNAMDIWell, David, here's the other side of that coin so to speak. This is going to take a minute, so David listen up as I read to Jeffrey Selingo a couple of emails we got. The first is from Michael who said, "The problem with college is that it teaches you zero skills. This is why college grads are unemployed. Employers know this and they're unwilling to put in the time to develop these people's skills. Do you blame them? Why should employer's waste time teaching skills college was supposed to teach?"

  • 13:47:00

    NNAMDIThen there's this from Rick in Manassas, Va. "One of the pieces that's often missing in this discussion is the broader issue of the value to society and the world of college and university education. We need well-educated leaders, scientists, artists, and engineers to do their share of the world's work. But we also need an educated population to help shape that work through its votes, its investments, its consumer behavior and personal choices.

  • 13:47:25

    NNAMDI"Liberal arts and sciences have done a pretty good job in that role for a long time, but seem to be losing the utilitarian argument about individual cost and return on investment concerns. Can you comment on the larger societal value of education and the investments it might require?" I ask you, Jeffrey Selingo, what value is there left in a liberal arts education?

  • 13:47:46

    SELINGOThere's a huge value, and if you hear CEOs talk, they love to hire liberal arts graduates because over the course of their career, they're going to be able to do the fifth job after graduation, not necessarily just the first job. You know, colleges and universities have never really taught skills. Generations ago they used to give people a broad education, kind of learning how to learn, and then you would actually be trained on the job. And employers have given up on that, right? There's no on-the-job training anymore.

  • 13:48:13

    SELINGOThey expect colleges and universities to do that, which is why we now have more narrowly tailored majors, and where people think that colleges should be teaching more skills. I'm not quite sure that's really good for us though in a future where the economy is changing at such a pace that the jobs of tomorrow, we don't even know what they're going to be. And so for colleges to try to train people for a job five or ten years from now, we don't know what that's going to be.

  • 13:48:37

    SELINGOYou know, I was broadcast journalism major in college. You know what we used to do? We used to splice reel-to-reel tape. Do you still use reel-to-reel tape here?

  • 13:48:43

    NNAMDINo. But when I started in this business that's what I used to do.

  • 13:48:45

    SELINGOExactly, right? So that's a skill that I learned in college that is just -- it's a total waste. I don't need that skill anymore. So why should we be teaching such skills in college when those jobs are not going to exist in five or ten years? We need to be giving students the foundational skills to learn how to learn. That's what we need to be teaching them.

  • 13:49:03

    NNAMDIOnto Catherine in Lincoln, Va. Catherine weighs in on this issue. Catherine, your turn.

  • 13:49:10

    CATHERINEHi. You touched briefly on technical schools -- technical education, and you, I think, were thinking about in offices. There is a man down in South -- North Carolina, Pearl Pryor (sp?), and he's been to college, he retired, and he has scholarships for the community colleges down there, or colleges, for the C students, the ones that sort of fall through the slats. And his motto is, every lawyer is going to need a plumber some time, but a plumber might never need a lawyer, which is a wonderful line.

  • 13:49:55

    CATHERINEHe's stressing the technical skills, and he's a wonderful man. He's spoken to NASA, he's spoken as a matter of fact, at Harvard. He's quite a wonderful person. But the idea of the technical skills -- I value a liberal arts education very, very much, but there's some people that would benefit from real technical skills.

  • 13:50:20

    NNAMDIWell, hopefully they can walk and chew gum at the same time.

  • 13:50:22

    SELINGOYeah. And very true, right? And I'm not advocating a liberal arts education for everybody, and she's right. We do need technical school graduates. Plumbers are never going to be outsourced to India, right? You're always going to need a plumber. But I think what this calls for -- by the way, they still need an apprenticeship, they still need a technical education. There's still some sort of education that's needed after high school, and I think the biggest problem right now is that we're not teaching students and not giving them the options to try to figure out what they want to do.

  • 13:50:52

    SELINGOWe expect everyone at 18 to know exactly what they want to do. We push too many kids to four-year colleges immediately, and they kind of wander there. They take on debt, and many of them drop out deep into debt, and without any degree to show for it. And I think what we really need in this country are more options after high school that help students on the pathway to a higher education, whether that's a two-year degree or a four-year degree, but not necessarily at 18.

  • 13:51:21

    NNAMDIYou mentioned this earlier. It's a recent report from George Washington University that put unemployment among recent graduates at like 7.9 percent. Why are so many new graduates finding that their skills are out of sync with the demands of the job market?

  • 13:51:35

    SELINGOWell, it just -- there's just not as many jobs out there, right? And if you -- and some of the statistics show that that number is actually twice as big when you look at students who are under employed, you know, the barista at Starbucks that everybody talks about with the college degree, or working part-time or just have given up. And unfortunately, what's happening is that students are graduating into just a bad economy where there's just not a lot of jobs for anyone.

  • 13:51:58

    SELINGOAnd what worries me is that, you know, history shows that students who graduate into a bad economy are almost never able to catch up over the course of their lifetime. And so we might be graduating right now a generation of students out of college who 20 years from now might still kind of be behind everyone else because of when they graduated. But by the way, they're still better off than most high school graduates right now, and I think that's really important for everybody to remember.

  • 13:52:28

    NNAMDIHere's Lynn in Silver Spring, Md. Lynn, your turn.

  • 13:52:31

    LYNNWell, thank you. This is a wonderful topic. I'm really excited about this. I graduated from a state college at Cornell. They had a state college there in 1978, and paid only three and a half thousand dollars a year believe it or not, and now I think the school is 50,000. I think back then state schools got a lot more state money and nowadays they don't get so much state money so they're very expensive. I agree with Mr. Selingo and what you've been talking about how kids that don't have a lot of money can't afford a designer education and they should consider state school.

  • 13:53:03

    LYNNBut my two kids just graduated from state school three and four years ago, and at UND, when my daughter just graduated, I think it was like 22,000 a year for room, board, and tuition, for a resident. So that's still, you know, 25, 50, 75, $100,000, and Mr. Selingo says you shouldn't ever pay more than 50, that's being a resident at a state school. Now, I know you say most people pay 40 percent less than that. We're not rich. My husband and I make $90,000 total. They were A, you know A-minus students, and we were given very little money.

  • 13:53:38

    LYNNI mean, so we paid close to the sticker price, and they have, you know, we gave them half the money because we -- we mortgaged our house, which we shouldn't have done, and we are 57, and we're ready to retire like you said in eight or nine years, and we took on $100,000 worth of debt and gave them each 50,000, which is horrible. But they went to a state school. We thought that was the best we could do if they wanted a college education. My daughter -- they both have biology degrees. They took all pre-med courses, and my daughter could not get a job when she got out, and she's in graduate school.

  • 13:54:12

    LYNNLuckily she's not paying for it. She found a program where they needed interns -- I mean, where they needed, you know, people got grants...

  • 13:54:20


  • 13:54:20

    LYNN…in environmental science, so she was able to spend six months waitressing at California Pizza Kitchen...

  • 13:54:25

    NNAMDIBut we get your point, Lynn. It's costing way too -- way too much. Here's an email we got from Jim in Arlington that Jeffrey Selingo can respond to as he responds to you. Jim says, "I graduated from a state college in 1972. The total cost of my education would have paid for a new car. Now, a college education costs more than a car a year. Part of the problem is that state governments are not supporting the state school systems like they used to."

  • 13:54:49

    SELINGOAnd this is a problem. I mean, the caller brought it up, and so does the person who emailed. By the way, I said no more than $50,000 in debt for undergraduate, not that you should not pay more than $50,000 a year in tuition. And this is a big issue. Eighty percent of American students go to public colleges and universities. States have essentially gotten out of the business of higher education, and as a result, state colleges have had to turn to students to pay more.

  • 13:55:16

    SELINGOYou know, a couple of the callers have said, you know, who's really responsible for paying? To me there's a compact here -- there's a social compact, and part of it should come from the government, part of it should come from parents, part of it should come from institutions, and part of it should come from the students. And the problem is, is that social compact is now out of whack, and students are expected to take on too much of the bill, and we don't see kind of the overall benefit of an educated society.

  • 13:55:40

    SELINGOYou know, one of the earlier callers, or person who emailed you talked about the benefits of higher education in general, right? People who have a higher education tend to lead healthier lives, they tend to kind of participate in civic organizations, and participate in civic ways more than others. You know, look at a place like Washington D.C. where, you know, more than 50 percent of the residents here have a college degree, and look at the economy here and civic engagement and everything else is so strong here, I think, because of the college-educated population we have here. And just imagine if we were able to kind of spread that around the country.

  • 13:56:15

    NNAMDIThank you for your call, Lynn. We go finally to Emily in Washington D.C. Emily, you're on the air. We're almost out of time, but go ahead, please.

  • 13:56:24

    EMILYHi. So basically I just wanted to share that I just graduated from a private liberal arts university, the University of Richmond, in May, and I was a psychology and international studies major, and I found great value in my education. But I wanted to take issue with this idea that liberal arts schools don't really prepare you for the work environment. I was able to land a job in the psychology field. I'm a research assistant at the University of Maryland, and the research skills that I got the University of Richmond really, really prepared me for this job, and I can't imagine doing it without a college education, and so I...

  • 13:56:57


  • 13:56:58

    EMILY...it was just very valuable to me.

  • 13:57:00

    NNAMDIThank you for your call, Emily. In the little time we have left, Jeffrey Selingo, few 18 year olds really know what they would like to do with their lives, but many go onto college anyway. What should these young people ask themselves before making this financial investment?

  • 13:57:13

    SELINGOI think that they want to go to a place where they're not going too deep into debt. I think they most importantly want to look at the graduation rate of those institutions, especially for students like them. So if they're first in their family to go to college, if they're a male, they're a female, they're African-American, they're white, Hispanic, those rates differ by student. I think they definitely need to ask that. Because going to college is about getting a degree, not just collecting credits.

  • 13:57:37

    NNAMDIJeffrey Selingo. He is the editor-at-large of the Chronicle of Higher Education, author of a new book called "College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students." Jeffrey Selingo, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:57:50

    SELINGOIt was great to be here, Kojo.

  • 13:57:51

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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