This New York Post editorial by Jack Hough got links by provocatively claiming that a university education is “a bad deal for the average student, family, employer, professor and taxpayer.”
Sure: it’s easy to pick numbers that show how a plumber who saves diligently will out-earn an egghead saddled with student debt. (How did plumbers become the Everyman, anyway? In the U.S., there are more lawyers than plumbers.)
The second half of the article raises a more important point: before you can say whether a college education is “worth it,” you need to measure what is actually learned.
Maybe it’s because I went to Drake, which has a big actuarial science program, but I’m a big fan of testing for competency in fields that lend themselves to quantitative measurement. If a college graduates accountants, it should be accountable for what they know, not just to employers but to everyone who helps subsidize that education.
Hough points to the College Board’s AP exams as a template to consider. They’re hardly perfect. Anyone who took AP US History will remember that it’s far too easy to study for the test and then forget everything you learned.
But testing does prove what you can learn. For many of today’s jobs, one’s knowledge is less important than the ability to pick things up quickly. I don’t know that you’ll ever be able to place a value on a film degree, much less measure what was learned. But if you test for adaptability across a range of disciplines — writing, technology, presentation skills, creative problem-solving — I think a film school grad would measure up well.