The purpose of a higher education had, at one time, been viewed as a public good, to provide a well-rounded general education to citizens that included many humanities courses and as well as science or math. According to this view, state funded college and university research would benefit the public at large in terms of scientific advances in engineering and in medicine, as well as in culture and a better theoretical understanding of nature generally.
These days, the purpose of four-year college is largely seen as a private good, career training, and schools have responded to consumer demand. As for-profit corporations became the leading supporters of research, students of science and engineering were forced to pursue the goals of profit-oriented research programs. Humanities courses, which help develop critical thinking skills, were eliminated and replaced by more popular courses, such as finance, marketing and business. Before higher education was seen as career training, those going into industry and business used to take entry level positions in companies in order to train for a career while getting paid. Now colleges provide that service at great cost to the student and the public. The job market is glutted with inexperienced applicants holding four-year degrees, often in fields that have no relevance to public good.
The cost of higher education has increased drastically in the US as the quality has decreased. Whether they majored in business, science, humanities or arts, graduates are leaving college unable to earn enough money to pay back their loans. Many consider student debt to be one of the great financial crises of our times. Is college worth the cost? Meanwhile many colleges have become very profitable for administrators while professors’ salaries have decreased.
Is it time the government stopped financing private higher education and focused instead on funding state schools offering free tuition for students taking degrees in fields that benefit the public good in exchange for some years of public service?