Is Higher Education Still Worth the Cost?

With the cost of higher education rising ever higher even as the economy sputters, can we still justify this enormous expense? Liberal arts degrees send students and their parents into serious debt—in some cases more than $100,000—with no guarantee of payoff in a stagnant job market.

From a purely practical perspective, the costs of foregoing college have never been higher, as men without college degrees have been hardest-hit by the recent recession in the United States. Theirs have been the first jobs to disappear. But in this brief interview, Wheaton College president Phil Ryken looks at some of the other values of higher education, particularly the benefits of Christ-centered instruction modeled at his and other like-minded Christian colleges.

  • Ben

    I truly appreciate Dr. Ryken: from his ministry at tenth to his many contribution to confessional evangelicalism to his ministry at Wheaton. But this interview was extremely frustrating to hear. Dr. Ryken did not answer the question. Mr. Hanson’s question was clearly about the financial burden and return of a university education, but the answer sounded like what we all hear at prospective student weekends across the country. This was the Wheaton talking points.

    I am still curious about the financial burden of higher education.

  • Don Sartain

    Dr. Ryken, Collin,

    While I agree with Ben, above, that this interview didn’t really answer the question posed, it brought out another. I love the idea of a Christ-centered education. I love the idea of the gospel being the center of all educational aspects. What I find deeply disturbing is that so many of these “Christ-centered” colleges have a ridiculous amount of rules. One school I know of even blocks YouTube. Sure, there is a lot of inappropriate content out there, but there are also tons of sermon clips and Christian music videos.

    If college is supposed to be about preparing people for the real world, preparing them to wisely use the freedom we have in the gospel, how does this help achieve that goal? Doesn’t it just further isolate students from reality? If we’re really going to confess that God is sovereign and that we’re free in Christ, isn’t it more gospel-centered and Christ-exalting to allow biblical community to keep one another accountable for holy living, rather than imposing rules that Scripture doesn’t even give us?

    Maybe this isn’t the appropriate forum for this, it’s been a concern of mine for some time now, and thought you may have some insight. Feel free to email me at the address I used to comment if you’d rather converse privately.

  • Jeff Patrick

    The first two years of college are largely remedial education for skills that should have been taught in high school.
    Simply put, if you go to college for four years to get a degree in women’s study, theology, youth ministry, political science, music, english literature, etc – you’re doing it for fun because the chances that it will provide employable skills are next to nil. Nil.
    In the next 10 years, the trades will make a comeback and higher education will be forced to shrink – it must. There simply isn’t enough money out there and the feds cannot continue to fund higher education debt. There’s over a TRILLION dollars of college debt out there that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

    • Carlos

      Jeff hit the nail on the head! I wholeheartedly agree. Not everyone should go to college in the first place. Trade schools are excellent places to learn a job that will benefit society. Some 2 year degrees from community colleges will still provide decent training for many entry level positions.

      If you really feel the need to get a bachelor’s degree, College Plus! will save you money in the long run. There’s really no need to go into debt unless you are looking for some specialized degree.

    • Hannah

      I completely, absolutely agree with you, Jeff.

  • Brice

    I am extremely thankful for how the Lord used my college experience and would never go back on the decision I made. However, young people considering Bible College should know that debt collectors do not lax on Bible Majors. Think hard on a decision to go into debt – because it will greatly effect the first 10 years of your graduate adult life. Think harder about seeking the prayerful advice of a strong local Church. I found that in several areas of my learning the local Church was far more impactful than Bible College.

    I pray for Churches to focus more and more on developing education programs for young men and women to take alongside secular college classes. Less cost and the student would not be forced to leave his or her Church.

  • Philip Jarina

    In the construction industry, product knowledge is the key to success. Product knowledge from e-learning is free. This blog is a good example:
    Higher education does not always mean job-readiness in the construction industry.

  • James

    Sometimes I wonder for all the Christ centered talk if Colleges need to re-think how they run the financial aspect of these schools where students are hit with huge debt loads 50-100K or more – and even more if you marry someone from that school. Have fun having a family and trying to get a mortgage on that!

    Is being hit with that kind of debt load a Christ centered thing we want to be doing? Is that equipping them to enter into the world?

  • Lee Caterson

    This is a good question, especially since I am that man without a degree trying to finish one. Christian Colleges are NOT cheap and I want nothing more than to learn the word from those who have gone before me…but sadly I have not the money and I’m already in debt up to my eyeballs. If anyone reads this and thinks of it, please pray for me and the other people in similar situations: No money because of college, no money to finish college, no money to be had because of not being able to finish college and not being able to move on with life because they were never taught about the various ways to pay for college.

    Lord, COME QUICKLY!!

    • Mzungu

      Lee, I did stop and pray for you when I read this–I know it can be terribly difficult and discouraging. I have been in a situation similar to yours and have found great comfort in thinking on the truths of Matthew 6:25-34, and in having the Lord open my eyes to the reality of his provision even while I struggled with financial issues.

      • Lee Caterson

        Thank you Mzungu!!
        Those words from Matthew are so comforting. What we need will be provided, and like Jamie Munson said, we don’t really need shelter or clothing, I’d be ok with running around in the wilderness naked! After all, Jesus himself had no home…little earthly possessions.

        I sincerely hope that God blesses you!

  • Hannah

    Is there a source for “men without college degrees have been hardest-hit by the recent recession in the United States”? I guess I haven’t seen that amongst my highly educated and jobless friends :-/

    • Collin Hansen

      According to this article from The Atlantic, three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost during the Great Recession belonged to men. One of the industries hardest hit has been construction, where many men without college degrees work.

      • Hannah

        Thanks, Collin. Your statement doesn’t seem to be the necessarily conclusion of this referenced article.

        I find it very interesting you would mention construction since my husband and his business partner (a Master’s and a Bachelor’s respectively) were both in the construction field at the beginning of this recession. I don’t think more men having degrees would bring more jobs. The skilled labor force is a necessity to any society but currently less construction is being done because there is less money. And I must say, illegal emigration hasn’t helped the construction field, either. Perhaps less women are losing their jobs because there are 1) less women in the workforce and 2) women are usually on the lower end of the pay scale. Not that I’m fussing, I’m a stay-at-home mama, myself ;-)

        Respectfully, I think the conversation by those in higher education should be directed in how to revamp the institution to become more relevant. The face of education is changing. The current model is nothing like the past models and with the resources we have now, another change is inevitable. I certainly hope that Christian colleges and churches will be at the forefront of the remodel higher education so desperately needs while keeping monetary stewardship well in mind. I’d love to see TGC spearheading that conversation!

        Thanks for letting me soapbox!

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