inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

Despite Naysayers, a College Education Remains Valuable

Although it is not the only path to success, a college degree has long been a source of pride for first-generation-to-college families like mine.  Some now question the value and purpose of college altogether.  Sensational stories describe millionaire dropouts as though that was a common occurrence.  One editorial writer went so far as to call college a “cancer.”  This can lead some prospective college students to wonder, not which college to apply to, but whether they should apply at all.

It’s time to look past the vitriol of the current narrative and to recognize the transformative value of a college education.  There are four oft-repeated misnomers about higher education—1) “Not worth it,” 2) “too elitist,” 3) “too expensive,” or that it 4) “doesn’t prepare you for the real world.”

College is worth it

First, we’ve heard that, “college isn’t worth it.”  The prospect of debt causes some to question any investment in college.  Is it worth it? Both quantitatively and qualitatively—-Yes!

The reality is that we live in an age where our trust in just about everything has gone down—partly a casualty of our 24/7 news cycle.  And though higher education is still among the most revered sectors in America, right up there with churches, small business owners and the military—the trust level for all these institutions has dropped in the last two decades.

But at the end of the day, college is still one of the very best “investments” someone can make in their life.

Quantitatively, according to repeated analyses by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a four-year degree generates an annual return of 14 percent over a 40-year career, even beating the stock market.  In other words, a college degree would yield about twice the return compared to diverting your college savings into an index fund, and five times greater than if you had invested it into bonds, gold, or real estate.  If “college” were a stock, it would be the darling of Wall Street.  And if money is your measure, studies consistently show college graduates enjoy a bump in pay of over $1 million in their lifetime (on average) over those without a degree.

Qualitatively, is a fulfilling life your goal? Numerous surveys show that college graduates poll significantly higher for indicators of happiness and fulfillment compared with their non-graduating peers. College graduates, overall, tend to be happier, enjoy longer life expectancy, have healthier lifestyles, lower probability of incarceration, higher philanthropic giving, and higher rates of community engagement.

Opportunity, access, and upward mobility

Second, the “elitist” charge is just not fair. Sure, there are some schools that cater to wealthier populations, but colleges and education generally have long been the great equalizer in America.  For many women, minorities, first-generation, and lower-income students, the path to a better life starts with a college education.  And college-aid programs like PHEAA and Pell for lower-income students, and the GI Bill for veterans, have opened the doors to college to more first-generation-to-college students than ever.

The 90 independent nonprofit colleges and universities of Pennsylvania educate 45% of all lower-income, Pell-eligible students, 49 percent of all “adult” students, 54 percent of all minority students and the largest proportion of first-generation-to-college students in the state. You may find that surprising, but in Pennsylvania, it’s actually the independent nonprofit colleges that give low-income, first-generation, adult and minority students the biggest boost and best bang for the buck.  National measuring sticks like the highly regarded Economic Mobility Index and the WSJ’s Social Mobility Ranking demonstrate that schools like these change lives and empower lower-income students.

Making College Affordable

Third, the actual net cost of a degree at these independent nonprofit schools is much lower than that “sticker price” you saw.  According to the US Department of Education, average net tuition and fees (what families actually pay after school aid and public grants) at independent nonprofit colleges in Pennsylvania is just under $13,000, less than 10 years ago (even before adjusting for inflation).  A degree from these schools is actually becoming more affordable, not less.

Preparing for an uncertain future

Fourth, we’ve heard that “college doesn’t prepare you for the real world,” and that “colleges don’t meet workforce needs.”

The average person entering the job market today will have 16 different jobs in 5-6 different fields, and the job they have 10 years from now might not even exist today.  So how can you prepare for an unknown career in an uncertain future?  When jobs become more competitive, and new technology like A.I. structurally changes our economy, the case for college is enhanced, not diminished.  “Learning how to learn” is the new essential skill in a knowledge-based economy, and higher education is the surest way to develop it.

Choosing to forgo college limits your options. There are still plenty of jobs available without a college degree, sure, but so many more opportunities are available with a college education. By 2031, 70 percent of all jobs will require at least some post-secondary education, a double-digit increase in just a decade.

Next time you read a news headline blasting higher education or questioning the merit of a college education, tune out the rhetoric and tune into these facts.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or

Build Back Better Would Block Pell Grant Funding for Career College Students

A spending proposal in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan would deny funding for students who choose to attend private-sector career colleges, rather than public community colleges. It’s a burden that would disproportionately fall on veterans, older students, and people of color.

“We think it’s unfair and it’s unjustified,” said Dr. Jason Altmire, President and CEO of Arlington, Virginia-based Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU). “This has not been done before in the Pell Grant program.”

For decades, low-income students have relied on Pell Grants to access higher education. Biden’s proposal would increase the maximum Pell Grant by $550 (to $7,045), which would fully cover the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at public community colleges in 48 states for students receiving the maximum award, according to the center-left group Third Way.

But while current funding levels would continue for the 900,000 Pell recipients attending career colleges, the White House’s plan would exclude them from the increased BBB funding. That would be a troubling break from traditional education grant funding, which has always followed the student, critics say.

It would also hit West Virginia and Arizona hardest. Arizona would suffer the highest per capita funding loss in the country under this Pell Grant policy, with West Virginia at number two.



“We are working very hard with both Republicans and Democrats to carry that message that this is unfair, it’s unprecedented and we support what’s best for our students which is equality in the Pell Grant program,” Altmire said.

Career colleges, which place a greater focus on job skills and workforce qualification than traditional colleges, tend to be more popular with non-traditional students, such as older students and military veterans. Career college students are also disproportionately people of color.

“There’s a lot of reasons why people might choose that type of setting,” said Altmire, a Democrat who represented Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District from 2007 to 2013. “Reasons include more flexible hours, or they just like the campus or the program. Some prefer the classes because they’re more intense and they’ll finish more quickly and get back in the workforce.”

During the Obama administration, the Department of Education also tried to restrict federal funding for career college students. Some in the education community believe it’s because progressive elements in the Democratic Party are ideologically opposed to the for-profit model. They support policies like a proposal backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)  to spend $109 billion on free community college for everyone.

That proposal was stripped from the version of the Build Back Better bill passed by the House in November.

One outspoken career college opponent is Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank, and a former member of the Obama Department of Education.

“For-profits have over many decades been associated with scandals and students being ripped off,” Shireman told The Washington Post. “Every time the government tries to institute controls, the for-profit institutions claim they are being targeted. They fight it or undermine it by adding loopholes.”

Shireman left his job in the Obama Department of Education “under an ethical cloud,” according to a government watchdog organization, after leading the administration’s attacks on career colleges.

In fact, data show career colleges have a median completion rate that is twice as high as public career colleges.

“We produce half the truck drivers in the country,” says Altmire. “So, if you want to talk about the supply chain and the issue associated with the shortage of truck drivers, I don’t know how they think they’re going to solve that problem by disincentivizing people from going to those types of schools.”

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) also objects to restricting these grants.

“While a $550 increase to the maximum Pell Grant is a welcome upfront investment toward making college more affordable for low-income students, we are concerned to see these funds parceled out by institutional sector, which will add new complexity to a financial aid system on the verge of much-needed simplification,” NASFAA President Justin Draeger said in a recent interview.

“The best place to address concerns about institutional quality at some proprietary institutions should be in the institutional eligibility and accountability provisions in the Higher Education Act, not by making programmatic changes that add complexities to students.”

Follow us on social media: Twitter: @DV_Journal or