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Next Steps Blog


College Accessibility and Accountability

by Susan Lee
Director of College Counseling

Recently, there has been much in the news about accountability for a college or university education. As college costs have soared, people are asking whether college is worth the money being invested.

In 1947, there were 2 million people attending college – primarily white men from middle–high income families. The GI Bill (federal financial aid) after World War II began to open doors to students from a broader range of backgrounds and socioeconomic status. In 1960, the California Master plan established our state college and university system to create low cost educational access and opportunity for any California student who wanted to go to college. The Higher Education Act of 1965 greatly expanded the federal financial aid available to low income students. And so, college became accessible to a much larger and more diverse group of students. 

Throughout the 80s, college costs remained relatively low. Tuition was affordable for middle income families and even low income students could pay for through work and a relatively low amount of debt. In the last 20 years, however, tuition costs have skyrocketed. Yet, many more students are working toward and planning to attend college. In 2012, there were 22 million college students and the numbers of those applying and attending continues to rise. But with the high costs, middle income families are often not able to afford college and borrowing has dramatically increased (even since 2009). Student debt exceeds credit card debt in our country and many graduates are burdened with significant loan payments as soon as they graduate. The federal and state governments have made huge investments in college accessibility through grants and subsidized loans. Recently, investigations have pointed to the abuses by predatory for-profit colleges that make false promises about graduation rates and job placement while encouraging students to borrow excessively. There are legitimate questions about the benefits of such huge personal debt and government payout . With such high costs and so much money being invested, people want to know when and whether college is worth it.

In an attempt to increase transparency and hold colleges accountable, the Obama administration has come up with the College Scorecard. This tool rates institutions on the average cost per student, graduation rate, median borrowing and other quantifiable measures. The Net Price Calculator on the website of each college is another tool that is designed to help families figure out how much it will cost to send their student to that individual college. The administration is also considering a ranking system based on much of the information on the College Scorecard.

Beyond those metrics, however, it is very difficult to measure what a successful college experience is. Does one look at quantifiable measures such as job placement upon graduation; salary after 10 years; how many scientists are graduating; placement into graduate and professional schools? Or, does one look for qualitative measures such as an alumni professional networking, upward mobility, or graduates’ involvement in socially responsible institutions. Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, champions the well rounded, liberal arts education which gives "more tools with which to solve problems, broader perspectives through which to see opportunities and a deeper capacity to build a more humane society…We should think of education as a kind of intellectual cross-training that leads to many more things than at any one moment you could possibly know would be useful."  Tough to measure!

No doubt, statistics do show that college graduates still significantly outperform their peers in economic well-being and career attainment. However, which college and at what cost is a very individual decision with no specific guaranteed outcomes. 

Posted by lgersick on Tuesday October, 7, 2014 at 01:42PM


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Susan Lee
Co-Director of College Counseling
415 593 9511

Lauren Gersick
Co-Director of College Counseling
415 593 9512

Leslie Schaffer
College Counseling Assistant
415 593 9519

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