Bending the Curve, Education Style.

I recently read an article in the Pacific Citizen, JACL‘s newspaper, titled “CSU Votes to Grant Honorary Degrees to WWII Internees.”  Warren T. Furutani, a State Assemblyman in California, introduced a bill last year to grant honorary degrees to those Nisei students who were forced to drop out of school during WWII and sent to internment camps here in the USA.

It seems a little silly to only now recognize the importance of this bill, especially since it’s been a year after it was passed, but this story is not only about recognizing the sacrifice of fellow Americans.  It is also about recognizing the importance of education.  By granting honorary degrees to those who failed to complete their studies, we recognize how important a college degree is.

A college degree is not anything to be scoffed at, but the unemployment rate coupled with the high cost of education threatens to reduce the return on investment of a college degree.  Looking at the statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, one particular issue stands out to me.  The total percentage of Asians / Pacific Islanders that had some college education or bachelor’s education declined from 2008 to 2009.  The statistics show that this decline can be attributed to Asian / Pacific Islander females.  Now anyone who’s familiar with Asian Americans know that we can’t make general assumptions, and to really nail down an issue we need to split the demographic up into more granular detail (country of origin).  However, this is a concern because the comparable percentage for the total population that has some college education or a bachelor’s degree either rose or stayed approximately the same.  The implication here is that the educational level of Asians / Pacific Islanders is dropping, albeit slightly (statistically the percentage of educated Asians / Pacific Islanders is still higher than the other ethnic groups – in fact significantly higher).  The real question is: Why?  I think that it might have to do with the cost of education.

The USA has been talking a lot about bending cost curves.  Bending the cost curve for the budget, the cost curve of healthcare.  Something that really needs focus is the cost of education.  According to the College Board, families can expect to pay an increase of $172 – $1096 more than the previous year for college education.  This infographic from the New York Times illustrates the problem well:

Soaring College Tuitions

Copyright New York Times 2008

I’ve read and heard many people say that the solution to the rising cost of education is providing scholarships for low income families and expanding financial aid options.  If we do that though, aren’t we just shifting the burden of the student out into the future?  College costs will still rise, and the amount of money going to financial assistance will continue to rise.  Rather than looking at providing money to students to make college affordable, why don’t we look to the colleges to make college affordable.  What does that mean exactly?  It means that we should be looking at ways for colleges to reduce their tuition costs.  I don’t believe the source of the problem is that people don’t have enough money, it’s that education is becoming unaffordable.  The solution then is not to throw money at the students, or pile loans on them that they have to pay back for years after graduation.  The real solution is to examine the reasons why college’s are charging exorbitant rates and bring those costs down.  Only then can we really bend the cost curve of education.

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