By CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Turns out a four-year college degree might be a lousy investment.
Newsweek magazine reports in this week's cover story that for a growing number of young people, the extra time and money spent getting a college diploma will leave them worse off.
Many are pointing to the troubling similarities between college tuitions and the housing bubble:
Things like the rapid increase in tuition prices at rates higher than inflation, and people borrowing large sums of money and incurring huge debt.
Part of the problem is that the federal government has increased student aid big time. More people are taking loans - and students are told that this is "good debt," that they're investing in themselves.
But what kind of investment is it if you can't find a job when you graduate?
It's estimated that as many as two-thirds of undergrads come out of school with debt. For many, their loan balances are in the tens of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile half of all recent college graduates are either unemployed or have jobs that don't require a degree. And many are in debt up to their ears from student loans.
As Newsweek writes, "these graduates were told that a diploma was all they needed to succeed but it won't even get them out of the spare bedroom at mom and dad's."
Of course there are all kinds of degrees: a degree in engineering will help you find a job and pay off your loans a whole lot quicker than a liberal arts degree.
But, it's past time to rethink how we invest in higher education.
Some say we should put more young people to work through apprenticeship-style programs where they learn specific jobs skills and also "soft skills" - or how to succeed in the workplace.
Here’s my question to you: Is college worth it?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 4pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.
Americans' confidence in public schools is at a 40-year low.
A new Gallup Poll shows only 29% of those surveyed say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in public schools.
That's down 5-points from last year.
And it's down from 58% who had confidence in the country's public schools when gallup first asked the question in 1973.
It should come as no surprise that Americans have lost faith in our schools when you take a look at the dismal state of education.
One international assessment of 34 countries shows the U.S. ranking 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading.
Many of our students graduate high school without the skills they need to survive in a global marketplace: things like reading, writing and math.
Meanwhile there seems to be little - if any - accountability when it comes to our schools and our teachers.
Just last month in the Cafferty File we told you about how Florida lowered the passing grade on the writing portion of a standardized test - after students' scores plunged.
And the latest example comes courtesy of New York.
State lawmakers voted to shield the job-performance reviews for hundreds of thousands of individual teachers from the general public. Instead - the new law allows parents to see scores only for their child's current teacher.
Supporters say it's the right balance between the educational needs of the students and the parents' and teachers' rights.
What about the public who pays these teachers' salaries? Aren't we entitled to know who's cutting it and who isn't? Yes, we are.
Credit the political muscle of the teachers unions with stifling another attempt to restore accountability.
Here’s my question to you: How can we restore confidence in our public schools?
Interested to know which ones made it on air?
FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Yet another sign that our education system is failing:
Florida is lowering the passing grade on the writing portion of a standardized test.
Students' 2012 scores plunged on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test writing exam.
Only 27% of fourth graders scored a passing grade of 4 - out of a possible 6.
Last year 81% of fourth graders passed. Eighth and 10th graders had similar declines in their scores.
So the state Board of Education decided to change the test's passing score to a 3 - from a 4. Presto. Suddenly the number of kids who passed was about the same as last year.
Critics say by manipulating test results, Florida is covering up problems in the system. It has also reignited an ongoing debate over using standardized test scores to make important education decisions.
The state education commissioner defends the decision, saying it "helps to correct the process, not the results."
Schools and parents were told this was coming. Florida announced last summer there would be tougher grading for the writing exam - with more focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation. In the past, those issues had been graded with "leniency."
State officials say they may not have communicated those changes well to school districts and teachers.
It kind of makes you wonder how Florida graded these writing exams before the increased focus on little things like spelling and grammar.
Here’s my question to you: What does it say about U.S. education if Florida lowered the passing grade on a standardized test after students' scores dropped?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.</strong5
With college graduation season just around the corner, a lot of young people are already underwater.
Student loan debt tops a staggering $1 trillion, more than car loans or credit card debt.
It's estimated the average kid graduating from college owes more than $27,000, up 54% from a decade ago.
As a result, many students and recent graduates want their student loans partially, or fully, forgiven.
But that could open the door to the taxpayers getting stuck with yet another huge bailout.
In Washington, student loans have been a hot topic of debate this week, with President Obama pushing hard for Congress to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling to 6.8% as they're scheduled to on July 1.
House Speaker John Boehner says the House will vote on Friday to extend current rates for a year.
All this should make college students think long and hard about choosing what to study. With unemployment above 8%, if graduates can't find a job, they might very well have trouble paying off these loans.
A new study suggests students who major in subjects like health care, education, psychology, social work and business have a better shot at getting a job.
On the flip side, The Daily Beast reports the most useless college majors out there include fine arts, drama, architecture, graphic design, philosophy, religion, English, journalism, archaeology, music, history and political science.
Here’s my question to you: What's the most useless college major?
A dramatic change is underway at some of the nation's colleges and universities.
In an effort to attract more students and improve the financial bottom line, many institutions are cutting tuition or graduating students faster.
CNN Money reports that some private colleges are cutting tuition by more than 20%. Others are offering three-year degree programs, but that means fewer classes.
And some experts worry these fast-tracked degrees are a bad idea. That they shortchange students on learning critical skills like reading and writing.
Meanwhile it's no secret that the cost of attending college has skyrocketed with both tuition and room and board rising faster than the rate of inflation for years.
The average tuition at four-year private colleges now stands at nearly $29,000 a year. So the savings from finishing in three years instead of four ain't chump change.
It's estimated that total college student loan debt in this country tops $1 trillion. That kind of debt can force people to postpone buying homes. And that could slow the housing recovery.
Meanwhile a lot of these young graduates aren't buying homes because they're moving back in with mom and dad when they can't find jobs.
A recent pew poll shows nearly 30% of young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 are living in their parents' home. That's the highest level since the 1950s. And that number shoots up to 53% for those younger than 25.
Here’s my question to you: Is paying less tuition for a three-year college degree a good idea?
When you think about some of the greatest dangers facing this country's national security - al Qaeda, the Taliban, a ticking time bomb in Iran probably all come to mind.
But one that might not come to mind at first is our schools.
Public education is failing to do its job of educating our children, and that poses a grave danger to the security of our country long-term.
An independent task force launched by the Council on Foreign Relations is warning the U.S. education system is barreling toward "a national security crisis."
The chairs of the report - former New York City school system chancellor Joel Klein and Stanford professor Condoleezza Rice - former Secretary of State under President George W. Bush - say education failures pose several threats to our national security.
They include economic growth and competitiveness, U.S. physical safety and intellectual property.
Our students are not being prepared for the global work force.
The report highlights a Defense Department statistic that 75% of American youth don't qualify for the armed forces because of a lack of a high school diploma, obesity or a criminal record.
Among those who do qualify, 30% don't pass the military's aptitude test.
If we don't educate our young people so they can compete, we are doomed.
The task force recommends a "national security readiness audit" as one way to hold schools accountable.
Not everyone agrees with the report, including some members of the task force itself.
But it's no secret the quality of our public education has been in decline for quite some time.
Here’s my question to you: Is the decline of American schools putting national security at risk?
You probably already suspected this, but just in case….
SAT reading scores for high school seniors this year are the lowest they've been in almost 40 years.
The College Board - a non-partisan group that administers the test - reports that SAT scores are down in every subject; dropping three points in reading, one point in math and two points in writing.
Overall, the combined average SAT score of 1500 was down six points from last year and down 18 points from five years ago. A perfect score is 2400.
The College Board says scores are lower due to the growing diversity of students taking the test:
In 2011, 44% of test-takers were minorities, 36% were the first in their family to go to college and 27% didn't speak English exclusively.
The test administrators say more students than ever are taking the SAT, which includes more students from different ethnic, economic and academic backgrounds.
Meanwhile, these disappointing SAT scores come as schools have been working to raise scores on state standardized tests under the No Child Left Behind law. But it sounds like a lot of children may be getting left behind.
Experts acknowledge that we should be worried. They suggest that high schools need more rigorous classes to prepare students for college . Gee... there's an idea!
Others suggest that educators have been putting more focus on math and science in this age of technology - and not as much on reading and writing.
But without reading and writing, how will the next generation of Americans be able to communicate - and lead this country out of the serious problems we have?
Here’s my question to you: Where is the U.S. headed if SAT reading scores are at the lowest in nearly 40 years?
The city of Camden, New Jersey, reportedly will pay high school students $100 each not to skip school.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the move is part of an effort to end truancy. It will focus on conflict-resolution and anger-management workshops during the first month of school, the paper says.
The program - called I Can End Truancy or ICE-T for short - is being funded by a grant from New Jersey's Department of Criminal Justice. The money needs to be used by September 30, or Camden won't have a shot at getting the grant next year, according to the Inquirer.
Sixty-six participating students will be paid $100 each on September 30 if they attend most of the anti-truancy sessions and school days, the newspaper says.
The students and their parents have to sign a pledge saying the youths won't skip classes later in the year. Officials will track the students’ attendance.
Absences will be assessed case by case because many of the young people in Camden face "extraordinary things," one official told the Inquirer. For example, a ninth-grader in the program can't read, and several students go hungry at home, that official said.
Not everyone thinks paying kids to attend school is a good idea.
One former school board member told the paper the plan was "outrageous." He says it sends the wrong message to students and that schools need fundamental changes to keep young people interested.
Supporters point out that other cities have used similar programs.
Camden's mayor hopes to continue the anti-truancy program with other grants so more troubled students can participate, the newspaper says.
Here’s my question to you: Should students be paid to attend school?
Here's something that will scare you out of a vacation if you've got kids in high school or junior high school: During the past 20 years, tuition and fees at public universities have jumped nearly 130%, and they're going up some more - again. With states facing budget crunches like never before, some state colleges and universities are being forced to raise tuition and fees even higher.
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, 25 governors have proposed slashing college funding in their states. That would total $5 billion in potential cuts nationwide. And these cuts in funding are forcing colleges in some states to boost tuition by more than 20%.
In Arizona, for example, the legislature voted to slash higher education funding by $198 million in fiscal year 2012. As a result, tuition will jump 22% at the University of Arizona, more than 19% at Arizona State University and 15% at Northern Arizona University. Incoming freshmen at the University of Arizona this fall will pay more than $10,000 a year, almost double what freshmen in 2008 paid.
Public colleges and universities in California, Pennsylvania, Washington and New Hampshire are also being forced to raise tuition because of state budget issues. And schools in Florida and Tennessee are also raising tuition as federal stimulus dollars have dried up.
And considering the median income for middle-class Americans is actually $400 less than it was 20 years ago, more and more young people and their parents are digging themselves a deeper hole just so they have a better shot in a dismal job market.
Here’s my question to you: Is the cost of higher education becoming prohibitive?
President Obama flew to Durham, North Carolina, Monday to meet with his Jobs and Competitiveness Council hoping to get some ideas from corporate leaders on how to boost the economy and promote job creation. Now there's an idea.
He's going to need all the help he can get. With 9.1% unemployment, things aren't looking so hot, particularly with the jobs situation so bleak for college age and college-educated young Americans, a demographic that widely voted for President Obama in 2008.
According to a one study, the median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000 a year. That's 10% lower than what those who entered the workforce from 2006 through 2008 earned. A separate study found only about 45% of college graduates under age 25 are working a job that requires a college degree. Less than half. That number varies from major to major: Those who majored in education and teaching or engineering are much more likely to find a job requiring a college degree. But while engineering jobs are highly paid, education and teaching jobs have much lower earning potential.
And here's a sobering thought: Half the 54,000 jobs created in May came from McDonald's.
All of this is reigniting the debate over whether a college degree is really worth it in this economy. Over the past 20 years, tuition and fees at public universities have jumped nearly 130%. But real income for the middle class has actually dropped. The latest figures show the median income in the U.S. is $400 lower than it was in 1988.
We hear a lot about dealing with a "new normal" in the wake of the Great Recession. Choosing against a four-year college degree may be part of that for some Americans.
Here’s my question to you: Has the value of a college degree changed in recent years?
Jack Cafferty sounds off hourly on the Situation Room on the stories crossing his radar. Now, you can check in with Jack online to see what he's thinking and weigh in with your own comments online and on TV.
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