Is College-As-We-Know-It a Bargain? Even “for Free”?
As Andrew Cuomo takes a deserved victory lap for making New York the first tuition-free state for students of certain income, I’m taking pause.
This is a major accomplishment. Affordability has long been a major barrier to a college degree, and New York’s adoption of a tuition free model will alleviate the tuition burden for many students.
That being said, there are gaps in the model, specifically:
The additional costs associated with attending school on a full-time basis
The full-time requirement itself (Students must take a minimum of 30 credits per year to qualify for the “scholarship” reward.)
The residency stipulation requiring reward recipients to live and work in New York State for the same number of years they received the scholarship (If graduates move, the scholarship will convert to a loan.)
Aside from these challenges to the model itself, there is an even larger question around the value of a college degree.
Just Like High School?
In touting the new legislation, Cuomo has said “Today, college is what high school was — it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.” Unfortunately, high school as-we-know-it is not an option, but an obligation that has been posing as a benefit for way too long.
It is still true that job opportunities and salaries are greater for high school and college graduates than for those who do not complete either. But in our rush to race to the top, we have left behind many students whose innate love for learning has been squashed by excessive testing, overly prescriptive curricula, and a lack of experiential learning opportunities.
As we have struggled to address the stranglehold of Common Core standardization in K-12, we are also continuing (and in some cases just starting) to struggle to address models of delivery and design within college curricula to not only ensure a higher level of engagement and retention, but to also ensure that we are graduating students with marketable credentials for today’s workplace.
Redefining the Market
While New York’s tuition-free free model does address one major barrier to a college degree, it does not necessarily ensure the value of that degree in today’s or tomorrow’s workplace.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5.7 million job openings as of the last day of February of this year, compared with 5.4 million reported at the same time last year. This year, we will see approximately 1,882,000 students graduating with a bachelor’s degree. If previous years are any indication, many of those graduates will either not find a job, will find a job unrelated to the degree or major they studied in school, possibly resulting in “underemployment,” being hired for a job that a less skilled candidate could have filled.
What we need are more educational models that can respond to the changing employment market and reduce the gap.
Few models stand out more than the collaboration between Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T to offer a $7,000 Master’s Degree in Computer Science. In addition to $2M in funding and providing technology support, AT&T also included internships and corporate projects for credit as part of their support for this project.
Accessibility, Affordability, and Relevancy
John Palmer, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at AT&T, noted at yesterday’s Education Summit that accessibility, affordability, and relevancy are three vital components for education. Palmer advocates for more partnership between business and education in order to keep learning relevant. He also encourages workers to engage in continuous learning to keep up with the constant state of change in order to remain relevant.
While I respect the intent to address affordability, I take pause as I reflect on Governor Cuomo’s tuition-free college plan. Until we address the issue of relevance at every stage of learning, a free education may not be such a bargain after all.