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The Gamble of Higher Education

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Briana Kagy / Illustrator

Briana Kagy / Illustrator

Congratulations, you’re a graduating senior. The unemployment rate is over 7 percent nationwide, but for you, it could be over 10 percent. Are you planning on writing screenplays? Well, bon voyage. Are you planning on becoming a physical therapist? Jackpot, dear reader; you’re entering into one of the fastest growing professions in the United States. But it will cost you at least six years of school, or about $200,000 if you complete both of your degrees at Saint Louis University.

Around the country, a conversation has begun about the price of college. Yes, the cost of tuition has steadily risen, to an average of $22,261 at an in-state public school and $43,289 at a private school. But a new factor, the stagnant employment market, has cost many graduates dearly, and prompts the question: Should you follow your heart or bet on your wallet?
So far, the wallet is winning.

In a recent study, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences found that just 8 percent of students major in the humanities. That’s a nearly 10 percent drop in the last 40 years. Worried that enrollment in these subjects will continue to decline, university officials say it could lead entire departments to disappear. Not only are jobs not readily available for philosophers or fabric designers, public investment is going elsewhere.

Consider the following quote from President Barack Obama: “Reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century. That’s why I am committed to making the improvement of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education over the next decade a national priority.”

As the United States becomes more technological and automated than ever, it’s also making the fine arts more obsolete. The Obama administration has committed $80 million so far to STEM projects. Obama has also proposed spending more than $8 billion in the next three years to develop job training opportunities at community colleges that satisfy the needs of big industry.
And wherever Uncle Sam spends, the American universities will go. And where the universities go, so do high schools around the nation. If you build it, they will come, so the saying goes.

Sitting in a cooking class recently at Columbia High School in Columbia, Ill., just over 15 miles south of St. Louis, Adam Babb and Reed Greatting are more concerned about their chicken pot pie than their future.

Both have made their decisions to attend universities, and both cite factors indicated by national trends. Teammates on the football field, Babb and Greatting offer a microcosm into the selection of high education by today’s high school seniors.
Greatting will be attending the University of Missouri – Columbia in the fall. He will be studying accounting in the Trulaske School of Business; its accounting program ranks 29th in the nation.

“Definitely, I would say choosing a major that could lead to a job after college was a major part of my decision to go to Mizzou,” Greatting said. “I saw Mizzou’s program had a 97 percent job placement for accounting graduates. I looked at cost, programs and distance, and realized Mizzou was my best bet.”

As an Illinois resident, Greatting will be eligible for Mizzou’s in-state tuition rate if he stays for more than a year. A Missouri resident pays $22,387 in tuition or about 61 percent less than out-of-state students.

Though Mizzou has not expanded its in-state tuition eligibility, some public schools have. For instance, Southern Illinois-Carbondale will grant in-state tuition to citizens of Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas and Indiana if they fall within a certain radius from the school.

The practice is becoming more common, as public schools compete for students.

Briana Kagy / Illustrator

Briana Kagy / Illustrator

Greatting said his parents have agreed to pick up the payment for his tuition, though he will be left to pay for extra-curricular activities he chooses to engage in, such as joining a fraternity or a bass fishing club.

Babb, on the other hand, has chosen to be a Billiken.

Come August, he will be enrolled in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. He picked SLU over Maryville University and University of Evansville in Indiana because of its unique freshman-entry doorway. Babb, a four-year two-sport athlete at Columbia, had previous experience with physical therapy, and that led him to research the profession more.

“I saw how much physical therapy made a difference in my life, I knew I wanted to make the same difference in other people’s lives,” Babb said. “And SLU’s job placement [in P.T.] is 100 percent, so that sealed the deal.”

Babb will fund his SLU experience through scholarships and tuition exchange through Washington University in St. Louis.
Under the exchange, Babb will receive a maximum of eight semesters of undergraduate tuition at SLU because his mother is eligible for tuition remission at Washington University. That made coming to SLU an easy decision.

“Knowing I wouldn’t have to worry about the cost, I knew that SLU was my favorite of the schools I visited, and I knew if I got in, that’s where I wanted to go. And I did.”

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