The cost of higher education has increased drastically in the US as the quality has decreased. In public institutions, open admissions drew many more new students to higher education, many of whom had not received adequate secondary school education. Schools and educators were pressured to pass students to show a higher success rate so as to continue to get government funding. Tuition increased further as students were guaranteed loans by the government and demand for a college education increased.
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. Higher education would train students in professions that are not profit driven. Students would produce books that are not meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator, as with for-profit publishing, but would provide content to raise the bar for all. Students would conduct research to cure diseases that affect only a small percentage of the population and are not seen as profitable for pharmaceutical corporations. Students would pursue purely theoretical science with no known, as yet, engineering applications. Ideally all research would be open source, available for free to the public, and all patents would be held by the researchers and the state jointly and could not be sold to for-profit corporations. Ideally state funded education would produce cultural and political leaders, as well as informed voters.
These days, the purpose of four-year college is largely seen as a private good, career training. Instead of providing the best most useful courses for a well-rounded education and to benefit the public generally, universities began to cater to corporate sponsorship and 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. Or, as the Humanities students mainly sought to become Humanities professors, not produce content for the general public good, Humanities courses became obscure and politically motivated and lost touch with the public.
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 became glutted with inexperienced applicants holding four-year degrees, often in fields that have no relevance to public good.
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, whose students have received guaranteed government loans, have become very profitable for administrators and some colleges started offering stock to investors. Administrators salaries have increased dramatically, while professors’ salaries have decreased.