As two recent New York Times pieces show, it's becoming increasingly difficult to justify college for everyone. In the first piece, Jason DeParle told the story of two working-class girls whose struggles with college resulted in no degree and significant debt after four years. DeParle used these stories to underscore how American higher education seems to safeguard privilege while failing poorer students, whose interests are often not well-served by traditional institutions. Angelica, who attended Emory, juggled a rigorous courseload, work demands, and cultural disconnect. She ended up not graduating, returning home with $61,000 in debt and no employment opportunities save a local furniture store. Like so many in her generation, her college experience has not left her much further from where she started.
The second piece features young people who are realizing just that. Shay Findlay, a 19-year old from Sidney chose to forgo college in favor of employment in the state's booming energy industry. His reasoning? "I didn't want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much." Indeed, as he notes, his friends who attend low-quality institutions will need to find work, and it's unclear whether their degrees will lead to better opportunities than he currently enjoys. Tellingly, Findlay perceives that his friends' college experience is primarily social, not educational. Though we can't confirm Shane's perception, Minding the Campus readers know that our colleges often seem to be playgrounds for the rich and indebted alike. As the cost of college continues to climb and its benefits become murkier, one can anticipate scores of young people doing the cost-benefit analysis that leads them to choose Shay's path over Angelina's.