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When Does the College Bubble Burst? – Jagger Czajka – Medium

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Congrats on graduating! It’s the last good news you’ll see for awhile. (Graphic: Jagger Czajka)

The internet is responsible for disrupting like 800 different industries, but one where their effect isn’t mentioned enough is education. That’s surprising, because so much of what’s on the World Wide Web has essentially made a college degree (and really the college experience in general) completely useless.

Now this is where I add the caveat: obviously higher education is definitely needed for some majors. I don’t want a doctor operating on my heart who only knows about surgery because of a video they saw on WebMD. Should their internet knowledge fail me and lead to my demise, I definitely don’t want my family hiring a lawyer whose legal expertise is confined exclusively to case briefings they read off of Google.

With that easy disclaimer out of the way; yeah, the internet has made many college majors useless. Why? Because you can learn so much, meet so many people and ultimately gain more experience and/or knowledge just through your browser. For as much as previous generations love to act like our computers have turned us into digital slaves, they’ve truly empowered us to seek out the knowledge we find important, with no regard paid to the previous gatekeepers of this information.

Yet, here’s another caveat: in spite of technology making knowledge so widespread that babies are practically born out of the womb with an iPad and a million facts, more people are going for higher education than ever. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that, between 2000 and 2016, the number of students in “degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 28 percent (from 13.2 million to 16.9 million students)”. By 2027, it’s estimated to increase to 17.4 million students.

The crazy thing is that considering how pervasive college attendance is amongst society nowadays, that number feels incredibly low. But the cost of a post-high school education is only going up. Collegeboard estimates that the cost of a four-year degree is a little under $36,000, which is around a $7,000 increase from ten years ago.

Considering that college can be so time-consuming that many students can’t (or don’t want to) take on a second job, that likely means they have to take out student loans. If they do feel like taking out what amounts to a mortgage on their education, CNBC estimates “that 60 percent of student debt borrowers expect to pay off their loans in their 40s”.

So if you enter college at 18 years old and go on the usual four-year degree plan, you’ll accrue enough debt by the time you’re 22 (or 23/24, depending on how long it takes to finish school) that lasts over 20 years of your adult life. I haven’t even begun to discuss the cost of housing or having children yet.

But I don’t need to, because there’s a far more insidious question lurking underneath all these numbers: what if your college major isn’t even worth it?

Take, for example, journalism majors. That industry is currently in the process of being bludgeoned to death by the easy access and knowledge of the internet. Why do you think places like The New York Times and The Washington Post (as well as your local newspapers) often require a membership to read articles now? It’s not because web advertisements are just as profitable as print ads.

So this is a volatile job field, with a democratic twist: much of what you learn can either be learned on YouTube (pro tip for aspiring video editors: you can learn Adobe Premiere without having pesky due dates or expensive tuition) or just through plain experience (another pro tip for wannabe writers: start a blog and type away).

What many university fanboys will tell you is that the cost of college also reflects the valuable experiences they give you in terms of meeting people, growing into adulthood, etc. That’s all true and believe me, I had my fair share of growing experiences (good and bad) attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Heck, I even had my first serious girlfriend, not that I needed to pay $5,000 a semester to have one.

They have a point, but you know what also is a valuable experience? Just going out there, doing the work you want to do and meeting people along the way that can help. What 50-plus years of higher education have ingrained in the heads of our parents and their parents is that you have to go to college in order to grow as a person. Somewhere along the way, business people realized this and became Deans of universities to ratchet up the costs and profit on the anxious desires of parents to make sure their kids grow up to be successful adults.

Which brings us to the final, cruel twist. Since the bar is so low on college enrollment now, that’s effectively devalued many degrees, causing employers to require both education and experience when applying for post-grad jobs. But wait a minute: how does one get said experience when they’re expending all of their energy on expensive education? Thus, the path to a degree resembles one big runaround.

It already goes without saying that education is too expensive. There’s a reason why student loans are approaching crisis levels in the United States right now. But what we need is a true democratization of higher ed: that means cheaper tuition, a greater emphasis on community college/vocational training, and for employers to understand that experience is the greatest education, not the other way around. Give me the Adobe Creative Cloud wizard that didn’t go to college over the four-year grad that can barely string together a two-minute news broadcast any day. If we don’t do these things, eventually the cost of college will become so prohibitive that parents stop sending their kids and initiate the collapse of a major industry.

Oh and one last thing we can do to save education from imploding? Get rid of those two years-worth of general education courses most bachelor’s degrees require and replace them with on-the-job training. Why does an art major need to know algebra anyway?

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