Saturday, February 14, 2009

The college scam

Taking on heavy debt pursuing a degree is leaving many young people miserable and poor

A college diploma is supposed to be the ticket to the good life. Colleges and politicians tell students, "Your life will be much better if you go to college. On average, during your lifetime you will earn a million dollars more if you get a bachelor's degree." Barack Obama, stumping on the campaign trail, said, "We expect all our children not only to graduate high school, but to graduate college." Rachele Percel heard the promises. She borrowed big to pay about $24,000 a year to attend Rivier College in New Hampshire. She got a degree in human development. "I was told just to take out the loans and get the degree because when you graduate you're going to be able to get that good job and pay them off no problem," she told me for "20/20."

But for three years she failed to find a decent job. Now she holds a low-level desk job doing work she says she could have done straight out of high school. And she's still $85,000 in debt. Last month she had to move out of her apartment because she couldn't pay the rent. The promise about college? "I definitely feel like it was a scam," says Rachele.

Her college wrote us that many of its graduates have launched successful careers. But Rachele's problem isn't uncommon. A recent survey asked thousands of students: Would you go to your college again? About 40 percent said no. "The bachelor's degree? It's America's most overrated product," says education consultant and career counselor Dr. Marty Nemko.

Nemko is one of many who are critical of that often-cited million-dollar lifetime-earning bonus. "There could be no more misleading statistic," he says. It includes billionaire superearners who skew the average. More importantly, the statistic misleads because many successful college kids would have been successful whether they went to college or not. "You could take the pool of college-bound students and lock them in a closet for four years - and they're going to earn more money," Nemko says. Those are the kids who already tend to be more intelligent, harder-working and more persistent.

But universities still throw around that million-dollar number. Arizona State recently used it to justify a tuition hike. Charles Murray's recent book, "Real Education," argues that many students just aren't able to handle college work. Graduation statistics seem to bear him out. "If you're in the bottom 40 percent of your high school class," Nemko says, "you have a very small chance of graduating, even if you are given eight and a half years."

Colleges still actively recruit those kids, and eight years later, many of those students find themselves with no degree and lots of debt. They think of themselves as failures. "And the immoral thing about it is that the colleges do not disclose that!"

For many kids, career counselors told us, it's often smarter to acquire specific marketable skills at a community college or technical school, or to work as an apprentice for some business. That makes you more employable. Vocational education pays off for many. Electricians today make on average $48,000 a year. Plumbers make $47,000. That's more than the average American earns. But some people look down on vocational school. A degree from a four-year college is considered first class. A vocational-school degree is not.

"More people need to realize that you don't have to get a four-year degree to be successful," says Steven Eilers, who went through an automotive program and then continued his education by getting a paying job as an apprentice in a car-repair center. He's making good money, and he has zero student-loan debt.

Eilers' story is no fluke. In the past year, while hundreds of thousands of white-collar jobs vanished, the auto-repair industry added jobs. Self-serving college presidents and politicians should drop the scam. Higher enrollments and government loan programs may be good for them, but they are making lots of our kids miserable and poor. For many, the good life can be lived without college.


Australia: Another government school "loses" a child

A girl with a disability is the second student in a fortnight found wandering the streets while her teachers were unaware she had left school.

Jasmine Colman's mother Vickie Liddle is furious that her five-year-old daughter, who suffers from Aspergers-related autism and stress-related epilepsy, was able to walk out of the Harris Fields State School at Woodridge, south of Brisbane, at lunchtime on Tuesday and cross a busy main road. Ms Liddle said a kindergarten teacher who knew Jasmine saw the youngster talking to a stranger on the footpath and took her back to school. "She could have been kidnapped, she could have had a seizure on the road - anything could have happened," Ms Liddle said. "The fact that she wasn't seen and no one noticed, and especially the fact that she has a disability, that was phenomenal. "They didn't even know she was gone." She said her "blood was boiling" over the incident and the fact the principal failed to apologise or talk to her about it.

A statement from Education Queensland said Jasmine became separated at the end of lunchtime when Prep students and teachers were moving back to the classroom. "The Prep student left the group. Teachers were supervising students at this time," the statement said.

"When the mother arrived at the school, she was immediately met by the deputy principal and special education teacher who apologised to her." The principal had rung the mother to apologise yesterday.

At Morayfield State School last week, a five-year-old boy was found wandering the streets while his teacher was unaware he was missing.


No comments: