Rising Costs

Submitted By:
Jonathan Gold, Moses Brown School, Providence, RI

Americans Are Losing Faith in the Value of College. Whose Fault Is That? by Paul Tough
The New York Times Magazine, September 5, 2023

In this probing, trenchant article, Paul Tough, author of several books on educational inequality, delves into compelling data on Americans’ perceptions of the value of a college education. The findings are sobering: thirty-three percent of Americans report confidence in higher education and almost half of American parents say they don’t want their kids to enroll in a four-year college. This shift has dented college populations: “as recently as 2016, 70% of high school graduates were still going straight to college; now the figure is 62%.” Tough juxtaposes this data on the US with insights from the rest of the world, where “higher education is more popular than ever.” He begins his analysis with the already high and rising costs of American higher education, showing how the so-called “college wealth premium” indicates decreasing returns on the investment in higher education for more recent college graduates, likely due to the cost – and underlying loan system – of contemporary higher education. Tough also cites insightful data about who finishes college and the impact of choosing more “lucrative” majors, but there is also new data on politicized perceptions of the value of college education. Tough braids analysis of this data with the much-discussed findings of Chetty, Friedman, and Deming on “the intersections of social class and higher education,” which showed how much elite institutions “put a thumb on the scale for the rich and powerful.” Independent school leaders and educators would do well to try to understand – and troubleshoot – the rather bleak picture painted by Tough; as Tough argues, the cost of these changes is one “we are likely to bear together, winners and losers alike.”

Current Events & Civic Engagement