July 12. 2013 11:19PM

College value: A real case for outrage


The interest rate on student loans just rose because Congress could not reach a deal to keep the rate artificially low. Supposedly, this is a scandal. The real scandal, though, is how little learning is actually going on at America's colleges and universities while prices skyrocket.

An article in Harvard Business Review last week highlighted the problem. According to the Pew Research Center, the cost of attending college has tripled since 1980. The average cost for tuition and fees at a public college or university rose from $2,119 in 1980-81 to $7,605 in 2010-11 (measured in constant 2010 dollars). For private colleges and universities, the price went from $9,535 to $27,293.

And yet, author Andrew McAfee points out, new research shows that students are studying and learning less. Researchers Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa tracked more than 2,300 full-time students. "Their findings are alarming: 45% of students demonstrate no significant improvement on a written test of critical thinking called the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) after two years of college, and 36% improved not at all after four years. And the average improvement on the test after four years was quite small," McAfee writes.

Almost two-thirds of students show no improvement on critical thinking after four years of college? What are they doing there?

Partying and socializing. Students spend just 9 percent of their time studying, but 51 percent on "socializing, recreating, and other."

This is what these subsidized student loans are funding. If college students should be outraged about anything, it is the falling value of what is misleadingly called a "college education."