On Beginnings: Part 8

This essay (serialized here across 24 separate posts) uses words and numbers to discuss the uses of words and numbers — particularly examining evaluations of university degrees that employ statistical data to substantiate competing claims. Statistical analyses are crudely introduced as the mode du jour of popular logic, but any ratiocinative technique could likely be inserted in this re-fillable space and applied to create and defend categories of meaning with or without quantitative support. Questions posed across the series include: Is the data informing or affirming what we believe? What are the implications of granting this approach broader authority? The author, Melanie Williams, graduated from UA in 2006, with a B.A. in Anthropology and Religious Studies.


In the aftermath of our 2007 financial crisis, it does seem rational for a more debt-savvy general public to be concerned with ROI, particularly when we see that college costs have surged 500% since 1985 – though we are given little context in which to ascertain how costs have risen, in the face of what types of budget cuts, at what institutions, in what forms, and how that additional money appears in the ledgers of either public or private two- or four- year institutions nationwide.  I’m not refuting the possibility that the numbers are true – tuition certainly feels like it’s risen over the past decade, but these claims are difficult to assess at face value, given I could say I have grown over 117% taller since 1985. 

One article might cite a study that calculates ROI without regard for the status of the institution – nor the social connections, higher rates of financial assistance, and likely income levels of students that attend.  Another suggests the debt-to-asset ratio of post-baccalaureates may have as much to do with the quintile from which they emerged as the diploma they eventually earned.

A study titled “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” published by the Pew Research Center, claims the historical increase in the income gap between graduates and non-graduates evinces the value of a college degree.  Another article points out the need for the Pew Research Center to draw a distinction between those who go to college and those who graduate college when calculating ROI (the numbers are very different.)  And yet another article attributes the increase in the income gap partly to another economic phenomenon:

“The average hourly wage for college graduates has risen only 1 percent over the last decade, to about $32.60. The pay gap has grown mostly because the average wage for everyone else has fallen — 5 percent, to about $16.50. ‘To me, the picture is people in almost every kind of job not being able to see their wages grow,’ Lawrence Mishel, the institute’s president, told me. “‘Wage growth essentially stopped in 2002.’”

Another economist traces the arrested growth of wages to the 1970s.

This study, cited earlier, from a group at Georgetown University, uses information collected since 2009 by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and suggests that post-graduate success (i.e., income) is mostly due to one’s chosen major rather than a complex combination of factors – such as school attended, years completed, cost of attendance or total debt incurred, and whether a graduate thereafter pursues a career in that field.  In fact:

“We’ve always been able to say how much a Bachelor’s degree is worth in general.”

We have?

If you’re not in the mood to slog through these articles, maybe you’ll enjoy this video of a blind kitty.

Part 9 coming tomorrow morning…

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