Getting Less for More with College Tuition

Article excerpt

President Obama is correct in wanting to make higher education more affordable and accessible, but Americans would also be correct in wondering just what they're paying for.

The need for a better-educated populace is beyond dispute. Without critical thinking skills and a solid background in history, the arts and sciences, how can a nation hope to govern itself?

Answer: Look around.

The problem isn't only that higher education is unaffordable to many but that even at our highest-ranked colleges and universities, students aren't getting much bang for their buck.

Since 1985, the price of higher education has increased 538 percent, according to a new study from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group that encourages trustees and alumni to foster improvement where institutions may be reluctant to go against trends.

For perspective, compare tuition increases to a "mere" 286 percent increase in medical costs and a 121 percent increase in the consumer price index during the same period, according to ACTA.

Also stunning is what can only be described as a breach of trust between colleges and the students they attract with diversions and amenities that have little bearing on education and will be of little use in the job market.

Of great concern is the diminishing focus on core curriculums -- the traditional arts and science coursework essential to developing critical thinking necessary for civic participation. Among the 29 schools surveyed by ACTA, only three require U.S. government or history, just two require economics and five colleges have no requirements at all.

In a separate study, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that though Americans pay the highest per pupil tuition rates in the world, most graduates fall below proficiency in such cognitive tasks as comparing viewpoints in two editorials or buying food when given in price per ounce. …