A recent WSJ article by Douglas Belkin, “Why Americans Have Lost Faith in the Value of College,” published on Saturday, January 19, has been doing the rounds in my circles. Not only am I a parent of college-age teens, but I am also an adjunct professor who worries about the cost of college for my own kids and others less fortunate than us. I can see why most Americans have lost faith in the system. The piece’s most mind-boggling stat: “The real cost of a four-year college degree climbed 180% between 1980 and 2020.” WTF! 

The article also describes how about 75% of the professors are low-paid contingent workers who do not have tenure, benefits, or any guarantee of future employment. As an adjunct professor, I can attest to this fact, and it makes me wonder: if teachers aren’t getting paid much, where the heck does all the money go?! The answer, it appears, lies in inflated administrator salaries, the continuation of tenure for those who entered academia in a bygone era when institutions were the primary custodians of global knowledge, and the creation of lavish amenities for the student population. These are all signs that higher ed is ripe for a significant disruption.

This article is a fact-filled and concise distillation of the problems of higher education and why the public is increasingly eschewing the 4-year college degree. While I understand why people are questioning the value, I still believe the residential college experience can be a fantastic way to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood, expand one’s understanding of the world, nurture one’s intellect and curiosity, and gather some essential habits and skills to help one thrive as an independent adult. However, it does not necessarily prepare one for the rapidly changing workforce. So when planning for college, students and families need to choose wisely and stay open. More than ever, we all must learn how to become lifelong learners and not expect outside forces to teach us. We have to learn how to teach ourselves.