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Has College Outlived Its Usefulness?

As the cost of college soars to unsustainable heights, its efficacy has been seriously called into question. Students now have direct access to employers, open-access online courses and a jaded outlook of "finding the right fit" when selecting a place to pursue their higher education. With so many colleges giving such a low return on investment, more people demand to know what they're actually paying for.

Chronicle of Higher Education editor Jeffrey Selingo says American colleges are about to undergo dramatic, fundamental shifts, according to an article published this week in The Daily Beast. In his book College (Un)bound, he singles out symptoms of the status quo's coming end and what's driving the change.





For one, students now have more tools to make an economical decision. PayScale releases its annual college ROI report, the article by Nick Romeo notes, which shows median incomes for graduates of a given college and compares them to tuition costs. The disparity for some schools is alarming.

The article cites a PayScale report that found 85 percent of Ohio Northern students graduated with an average of $49,000 in loans. The median starting salary for those same grads: $44,800. In stark, surprising contrast, the 23 percent of Princeton grads with any debt at all left the school with an average loan burden of $5,225. The median starting annual pay? $56,900.

Schools are just as saddled in debt, raking in revenue far below their unfunded liabilities. There's a veritable "arms race" for amenities on these campuses, The Daily Beast says, and it's driving up tuition costs. 

But increasingly, students don't pick a college for its fancy schmancy student lounge or its recreation hall or student union hangout. Students often have to work, so there's not enough downtime to enjoy the amenities their through-the-roof tuition pays for.

With more older students, there's a higher demand for online education, since it's sometimes more efficient. 

The misspending (it's safe to call it that, right?) of American colleges has also led to a lack of cash on the teaching side. Students at even the best schools are likely to take classes from an adjunct professor, who's incentivized to proffer good grades to get positive class feedback so they can keep their jobs.

A's are now the most common grade in the nation, the article says. Suddenly everyone's special, eh?

Then there's the ultimate: career. Before, college stood as the gatekeepers to the job world, connecting students with employers looking for young talent. But now we have the Internet, we have social networking, we have algorithms that match up students to jobs that way a dating website matches mate to mate.

It's a new era and colleges haven't yet caught up to the times.

"There’s something undeniably appealing about the romance of the chance discovery, whether of a subject or a college," Romeo writes. "But the costs of the current system are unsustainably high. If students and families still want to follow their marketing-fueled whims to a given college or pursue a subject with dismal job prospects, no one will stop them. But as Selingo observes, American higher education in its current state risks becoming, like the auto industry, a failed icon of arrogance, waste, and inefficiency."

Sad, but well put.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think college is losing ground to other educational outlets? Why? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

More from PayScale

Behind the Scenes of the 2013 College ROI Report Methodology

Intelligent Spending: Best and Worst Colleges for ROI

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