Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mike Butler: University costs and benefits

Universities are advertising and soon year 13 pupils will attend open days as they ponder their big step to tertiary education. But do those pupils and their parents have enough information to make an informed choice on where or whether to go?

Universities heavily promote their benefits because bums on seats bring funding. Secondary schools like having numerous pupils going on to higher education because this enhances their status as a quality education provider. Teachers believe in the value of education so push as many pupils as they can towards tertiary.

But other than repeating the mantra “get a good education and get a good job”, there is little data on what graduates go on to do. For instance, Victoria University of Wellington collects data each year on graduate destinations but of the 4671 emails sent out in 2011, only 1281 responses were received (27 percent). Sixty three percent of these were in fulltime work, 22 percent in part-time work, and 15 percent were not working.

There were no job details or any indication of whether the graduates were working in the fields they had graduated in. Neither was there any indication whether a degree was required for the type of employment gained. For instance, of the 807 of this group in fulltime work, how many were continuing the semi-skilled or unskilled work they did while studying, as check-out operators, bar staff and so on.

But the survey did find that on average bachelor graduates earned $40,441, honours grads earned $40,410, masters earned $47,449, and PhDs $67,450. Interesting to note that despite the heavy pressure placed on students to do the extra year, honours grads earn $31 a year less than those without honours.

Arguably, the value of a degree has declined as the number of people with degrees in New Zealand has skyrocketed. Between 1986 and 2009 the number of Kiwis with a university degree went from 100,000 to 538,000.

If the benefits of having a university degree are hazy and declining, what about the costs of study? Working out the costs can be a challenge. Course costs are readily available, but extra requirements that come up through the year are not so apparent. For those students who must live away from home, the cost of food and accommodation for year one can be calculated from student hostel fees.

The actual all-included costs for a three-year bachelor’s degree for one student living away from home from 2009-2011 for parents who were above the student-dole threshold were $66,890.

If that degree got a job paying the bachelor-level average wage of $40,441 ($19.44 an hour), and if a minimum wage annual income is $28,080, the difference of $12,361 means a bachelor’s degree would pay for itself in 3.2 years, longer if the hourly rate is higher. If the graduate could only get a minimum wage job, the degree would have no financial benefit. It is possible that a person could get a $20-an-hour job without a degree, making unnecessary three years of tertiary study. ( had a useful calculator to work this out, although I could not find it when writing this column)

Mounting student debt put the value of university education in the spotlight. One high-profile individual who argues that a degree is not necessary for success is Peter Thiel, an entrepreneur who dropped out of Stanford University and made billions of dollars as co-founder of PayPal. Thiel set up a foundation that offers to pay a couple of dozen of the nation’s most talented students each year $100,000 to drop out of college and become technology entrepreneurs.

In fact, many of the richest people are dropouts, including the late Steve Jobs (Apple), and Bill Gates (Microsoft). New Zealand multi-billionaire Graeme Hart got an MBA after he became rich.

The shortage of data on graduate outcomes prompted Professor Richie Poulton and his team at the National Centre for Life Course Research, based at Otago University, to launch a longitudinal study to find out where a university qualification leads. In the study that started last year, researchers invited 14,000 final-year students from the eight universities around the country to take part. This group represented about a third of the 40,000 students then in their last year of tertiary study. The study will revisit graduates in two, five and 10 years' time.

While awaiting data from the longitudinal study, the value of a degree remains hazy. For parents deciding now, another logical way to go could be to help your university-age son or daughter into a job earning whatever, encourage thrift and the habit of saving, and use the $66,890 otherwise spent on three years of education as a deposit on a $330,000 property investment for the benefit of your offspring. That, depending on the yield, could fund a university education, and you don’t even need to be a technology entrepreneur to do it.

I am a bachelor-level graduate. Somewhere along the track I noticed that it was ones who did not do well at school who bought the gas stations, plumbing businesses, as well as flats and houses, and went on to become millionaires.


Anonymous said...

For the last forty years at least, university students have been exposed to an inordinate amount of left wing garbage.

This bilge has recently crept even into the hard sciences and the practical professions, and is no accident.

The Communists who’d begun colonising the nation’s universities to use them as factories of ideological reproduction had by the early 1970s achieved critical mass in many departments, especially those specialising in the study of society. Their growing dominance on faculty hiring committees allowed them to systematically exclude anyone holding alternative views.

It is now possible to go all the way to Ph. D. level in any Humanities major without having been taught by a single conservative professor.

These people prate endlessly about "diversity" yet have deliberately put paid to intellectual diversity in the Academy.

Controlling the universities was based on the writings of Antonio Gramsci, yet another disreputable Communist held up as an intellectual icon by the academic Left.

In the 1920s, Gramsci realised that the western democracies were too attached to the benefits of individual rights, patriotism, and Judeo-Christian culture. These ideas were deeply embedded and would not be easily surrendered.

Revolution must therefore first take place on the level of consciousness. Gramsci’s adherents sought control over culture, organised religion, media, higher education, and other areas where intellectual discourse takes place.

The goal of these self-appointed “agents of social change” was to colonise, then subvert the institutions of the system they sought to destroy.

Starting in the 1960s, western university students have been increasingly subjected to systematic brainwashing by Gramsci’s disciples inside the academy. They were told they were learning not Communism, but “progressive” new ideas about race, gender and class. They were programmed with all the principles of Communism without the label then flattered for their cleverness in accepting the programming.

If you told them they were Marxists or Communists, they’d respond with a pitying smile, roll their eyes, and accuse you of “seeing Reds under the bed.”

After graduating, these useful idiots slithered forth from the academy into the media, education system, trade unions, Labour Party, entertainment industry, churches and other institutions that shape society’s governing ideas.

Our universities thus served as a transmission belt into wider society for a raft of Communist "race, gender, class" narratives, including that of Maori as an “oppressed” people. As a result, the political centre of gravity has moved steadily leftward over several generations.

An Arts Degree typically equips the holder to be nothing more useful than an angry social activist.

Our universities are long overdue for a gunpoint cleanout!

Anonymous said...

For a while, I collected articles from the USA on "The Higher Education Bubble"; I gave up because commentary of this nature has turned into a flood. Just Google "Higher Education Bubble".

Mike Butler, well done for drawing attention to this in the NZ context.

There is more taxpayers money at risk in NZ than in the USA. I have been saying for years that kids should have to engage with the real world for a few years before making their decisions about what they are going to study at uni; and there should be "tertiary study savings accounts" like the old "home ownership accounts" that young people pay into for a few years before getting their loan and their subsidy.

Exceptional merit should be assisted with appropriately targeted and funded scholarships. But it is irresponsible in the extreme, for government to lend taxpayers money to kids straight out of high school, to study warm fuzzy "humanities" and so on that not only are of no practical use re the NZ taxpayer ever getting any payback, but as the previous commenter said, is often little more than an indoctrination that turns the student into a kind of white ant in society.

- PhilBest

Anonymous said...

Those who talk as if more people going to unviersity is automatically a Good Thing seldom show much interest in what actually goes on at university -- including far less time spent by students studying the hard sciences and practicial professions than in the past, and a proliferation of courses promoting a sense of grievance, entitlement or advanced navel-gazing and breast-beating.

Or, not to put too fine a construction on it, gobshite!

Anonymous said...

Student teachers are now required to demonstrate “cultural competence” in order to receive a teaching degree. That means prospective teachers are required to “accept theories of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression, develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity, and recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia … but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation.”

Prospective teachers are indoctrinated that their role is to be an ‘agent of social change," encouraging students to “challenge and question the dominant culture.”

Students should be pushed “to take social action to change/ improve society or work for social justice.”

To cite but one example, this is why pupils at certain high schools are told they can take time off to attend leftist protests and rallies such as those mounted by the UNITE! trade union outside the business premises of international fast food chains.