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July 12, 2022 9 mins

Americans relationship with college is complicated and according to a new poll many think that it might not be worth the cost and time commitment.  Overall, most people believe that the benefits outweigh the costs long-term, and those with bachelor’s degrees usually earn 75% more than they would if they only have a high school diploma.  But the pandemic also plays a big part in this as enrollment has been down 1.3 million students since March 2020.  Chris Quintana, education reporter at USA Today, for how many still value higher education, but feel it’s too expensive for many.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
It's Tuesday, July twelve. I'm Oscar Ramiras from the Daily
Dive podcast in Los Angeles, and this is reopening America.
American's relationship with college is complicated, and according to a
new poll, many think that it might not be worth
the cost and time commitment. Overall, most people believe that
the benefits outweigh the cost long term, and those with
bachelor's degrees usually earned seventy more than they would if

they only had a high school diploma. But the pandemic
also plays a big part in this, as enrollment has
been down one point three million students since March. Chris Cantana,
education reporter at USA Today, joins us for how many
still value higher education but feel it's too expensive. Thanks
for joining us, Chris, my pleasure. Thank you for having me. Well,

it's a question that has long been asked. Is college
worth it? Is the expense for it worth it? Because
I think everybody roundly agrees that more education is a
good thing. We want others around us to be more educated,
we want the country to be educated. But when it
comes to these skyrocket and costs of college, it's a
tough thing and we're seeing it and play out in
other conversations as well. When we look at what's happening

with student debt, you know, it's higher than it's ever been.
There's conversations about whether we're going to eliminate some of
that student debt on the federal level. There's so many
questions surrounding this. And there was a recent poll done
by USA Today in public Agenda talking about this and
seeing how people feel about this. It's still while everybody
agrees that the benefits of a college degree does outweigh

the cost, men, everybody feels like it's hampering them down
how expensive things are. So, Chris, what are we seeing
in the numbers here? And what you said is is
really a good indication of just sort of the disparity
or juxtaposition of feelings that Americans have towards higher ed
You know, I think that the top line that really
stuck out to me was, you know, nine intent Americans

think that high school graduates all deserve an equal opportunity
to go to college. At the same time, about nine
in ten and Americans also said that no one should
have to go to college to make a decent living, right,
So there's a little bit of a despair. It ei there,
and I think, you know, a lot of this touches
on costs. When you look at the poll and sort
of the responses across the political spectrum, you see people

very frustrated with the cost of college and also the
time it takes to get through a for your education.
So there's a lot of kind of I would say,
just sort of infrastructural sort of challenges in game through
a degree. Right. For some folks who come from you know,
maybe from richer families, they can afford a college education outright.
But for any lower middle you know, income Americans, it

may involve some amount of federal aid or or even
taking out student loans. And as you mentioned, as the
student loan portfolio continues to grow, I think that one
point seven trillion roughly right now. I think that's just
heavier on people's mind if it's worth borrowing all that
money to get a degree that they don't know that
it will necessarily lead to a job right away, right exactly.

You know, one of these words that stood out in
this whole rite up about how people feel about this
is exclusionary. And a lot of that has to go
with the paid disparities and hosts of all of this,
but some people feel like they're just exed out of
this whole thing. If you're not coming from a well
off family or somebody that can handle the costs of it,
they feel almost like it's so much harder to do.

And another thing that people put in there, how expensive
and time consuming it is we're working adults. That was
one of the things I struggled with and going to school.
You know, I had a job as well, and you know,
you're spending hours there and you got to go to
classes in the off time and still do homework and
study and take your test, and that time commitment is
so hard when unfortunately sometimes education can't be the number

one time priority. And you know, that tracks with one
of the respondents told me in the poll, this gentleman
named Michael Lamb. He served in the military for twenty
years and got the g I Bill, which the federal
benefit that that allows you know, our veterans to help
cover most of the costs associated with the college education.
But you know, the thing that really stood out to

him was just like, it's that amount of time that
you sit out of the workforce that that was really
challenging for folks and colleges and in that's like another
thing that we found in the poll, about three and
five Americans say they degrees too time consuming and expensive. Right,
So it's it's kind of both these things and a
lot of the conversations that we see around sort of
addressing some of the issues with college accesses. You know,

we'll make college free, and that goes to part of it,
but that doesn't answer sort of the whole question, as
we've sort of seen here in the poll. Tell me
a little bit about how COVID nineteen, how the pandemic
played a role in education. You know, we've talked a
lot about these themes and stories on the podcast. You know,
when we're talking about younger kids, it was a huge disruptor,
the remote work. We're seeing kids go back to school

and teachers saying kids just are just not up to
speed and things like that. But when we're talking about
our high school kids and our college kids, it's completely different. Right,
they missed so many the high school kids missed so
many things at the end of their high school years.
Going into college, it was remote work, and even a
lot of times people felt like, while I'm paying so
much money it's not even paying off, especially right now,

because we're doing remote work, I'm not getting that full
college experience. And what we've seen is that enrollment numbers
have declined significantly. I think a higher education institutions have
lost nearly one point three million students since the start
of the pandemic. That's corrected, you know, that's what largely
those members are coming from the National Student Clearinghouses Research Center,
And you know, I spoke with the director of that center,

and you know, he was telling me that a couple
of things kind of going on there. You know, at
the start of the pandemic, there was obviously that pivot
to digital classes, and you know, I wrote extensively about
a students struggling with that, and for a lot of them,
just the expense and the challenge of trying to live
a normal life during the pandemic and also trying to
get their college forces just wasn't feasible. But we're a
little further out beyond that now, and the widespread availability

of vaccines have made it such that most colleges are
back in person, but the enrollment numbers haven't really rebounded, right,
And so kind of what we're seeing there is the
workforce is really charging right now. And so if you
just kind of gets back to the expense of time
and cost question, right, So, if you're looking down the
barrel for six years of the college education and there's

also this this sort of job that's hiring immediately for
twenty an hour, if you're a student trying to make
that decision, it's hard to say what the right thing
is there, right. I think some of the experts I've
spoken to say that, you know, these jobs are here now,
but you know, when you're looking into the future, you know,
I think it's something jobs are going to be available
to people with bachelor's degrees, right, So it's it's kind

of this trade off between like what's going to serve
me now and what's going to serve me long term.
And I don't know what the answer is, but that's
just something to keep in mind. Yeah, I think one
of the people you spoke to said, uh, well, you
don't need a bachelor's degree to have a great job,
but you know you really need that bachelor's to degree
to have that great job. It's kind of that catch
twenty two right there. And one thing that kind of
came up in a lot of these polls. The numbers

here is that despite community colleges being hit really hard
by enrollment declines, they're still looked upon very favorably. A
lot of students still were enrolling in skilled trade programs,
which were important in in areas that we need right now, constructions, transportation,
material moving, this is all stuff that we kind of
need help with because of what was happening with supply chains.
So at least that can maybe catch up on itself.

But community college is in a tough spot right there.
They really are. And you know, they're kind of in
this position where I think they've they've lost eight hundred
thousand students roughly since the start of the pandemic, right,
And these are institutions that already we're seeing sort of
declined in their enrollment. And then these are also institutions
that serve higher numbers of students coming from from poor

families or students of color. Right. And so one of
the things that someone had pointed out to me is,
you know, people can have a favorable opinion of community
colleges or colleges generally and not be able to afford
the cost or the time to get there, right. So,
it's it's like the enrollment may be down there, but
but that may not be because people don't like community colleges.
It just may be that there's a lot of other

kind of competing factors. And again that workforce piece goes
along way to that as well. Another interesting number, here's
sixty six percent of Americans they call just are stuck
in the past instead of meeting the needs of today's student.
Everybody roundly agrees that education is important and it's a
smart choice in people's lives, but man, is it expense him?
And that's the other thing, which looks, like I said,
leads into all the other conversations about what's going to

happen with student loan forgiveness. President Biden has said that
he wants to do something maybe in the realm of
ten thousand dollars student loan debt forgiveness per borrower. But
you know, nothing has been set in stone. That whatever
plans that they had and they were working on really
fell through at the moment. So we'll see this is
an ongoing thing. The country has always had these troubles
with education, so we'll see where we end up on

the other side. Chris Quintana education reporter at USA Today.
Thank you very much for joining us, but you're again.
I'm Oscar Ramirez and this has been reopening America. Don't
forget that. For today's big news stories, you can check
me out on the Daily Dive podcast every money through Friday,
So follow us and I Heart Radio or wherever you

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