Many of the key contemporary transformations of the recent decades have been a response to the mass demand. In particular, the expansion of higher education was conditioned by the transition to a post-industrial economy, the growth of the service sector and the knowledge economy. The first country to reach mass higher education was the United States, where in 1960, 40% of the age cohort took part in post-secondary education (Cohen and Kisker 47). Though in some developing countries the rate of those who receives education is still less than 10%, almost all countries have significantly increased their participation rates. Today, there are more than 150 million students of higher education establishments in the world, about 53% more than in 2000 (Cohen and Kisker 54). The educational level of society is surely the main condition for the victory of the country in economic competition, which is constantly getting more stringent in the conditions of the global market system. However, the decision on making higher education compulsory in the USA (at least two years of college or the first two years at a four-year university) may involve a number of negative sides, which economically, won’t prevail over the positive ones.
Above all, education requires considerable personal cost making the average of 60% of GDP per capita (Kamenetz 128). Thus, a huge obstacle to the compulsory higher education will be tuition fees, as even in places where education is free students have many indirect costs as the cost of living, and often loss of income. Scholarships, grants and/or loan programs are able to solve the problem to some extent, but cannot by themselves remove the economic barriers. In addition, as The College Board defined, the average cost of college education in USA and the four-year public college education cost is growing by 8.3% per year; attending private colleges – by 4% per year (Reynolds 24-25). Already now, virtually no family can do without student loan, and currently the total amount of debt on student loans is 904 billion dollars, which is more than the debt on credit cards (Kamenetz 134). A student or student’s parents who took a loan for education after graduating from high school have an average debt of more than 25 250 dollars (Reynolds 27).
Furthermore, as noted by the Equal Justice Work (cited in Reynolds 31), because of the debts on student loans, many people do not buy houses or even put off creating a family, which further has a negative impact on purchasing ability and birth rates. In addition, the debts on loans for higher education are a heavy burden for many older Americans, because they cannot get new student loans for the education of their children (Kamenetz 138): they are forced to cut personal expenses, moving to lower-cost houses, cannot afford to retire at the statutory period. According to the research by National Center of Education, over the past decade, the number of debtors on student loans has already almost doubled and will continue growing due to the upcoming reforms (Wolnicki 495).
However, the main concern of experts (Trow and Burrage; Cohen and Kisker; Reynolds) is the potential decline in the quality of teaching staff due to the fact that competent training of students for many professions in such a short time is still not possible. In both, humanitarian and technical universities, the current system of education most often supposes that in the first two years the student receives only general information about the profession, and it can be fully mastered only by the last year of study. Thus, the introduction of a two-tier system of higher education with the possibility of leaving university after 2 years presents the risk that higher education institutions will have to release half-educated dropouts.
It may also be mentioned that current researches show that the compulsory requirement for having basic higher education from the side of employers is progressively taking a back: 60% of the companies, in the first place, make an emphasis on skills, initiative and willingness to take responsibility and do not point in their job ads on the specific requirements for education (Trow and Burrage 121). In general, today it is important for companies to employ people for clearly relevant position, preferably – with experience in the industry, capable to quickly get into the business processes at the lowest cost for training or retraining (which in many cases, is still necessary for post-graduates having no experience). Indeed, professional education, as a rule, is critical only in specialized technical occupations, e.g. in construction, architecture, medicine, production, etc., while for reaching significant results in any field, from physics to management, 2 years will still never be enough, as it has already been mentioned.
In addition, though the reform will help students solve the eternal question of “to work or study” after school due to the governmental decision towards studying, there is an increased risk of producing a sufficient number of students who have made a wrong choice of profession being forced to enter a higher educational establishment and who will finally loose those two years without working for state budget and paying taxes. Moreover, other calculations show that a college graduate for the whole career is paid around 650,000 dollars more than a high school graduate (Trow and Burrage 89-90), and as soon as the majority of the American citizens are expected to obtain some form of higher education starting from 2015, their salaries will have to rise in accordance, thus forming additional loading on the American economy in general and taxpayers in particular (Reynolds 43; Wolnicki 498). On average, salary expectations will exceed supply more and more, and while the increasing number of post-graduates will not be able to find workplaces on their demand, this may lead to reduced employment, i.e. rising unemployment.
On a whole, the consequences of the higher education reform should be recalculated from the side of their macro influence and adjusted with alternatives in accordance, otherwise the democratic appeal towards extending access to higher education and increasing the intellect of the nation may turn into yet another debt bubbles and economic crisis, further education commercialization, impoverishment of the middle class, decline in birth rates, and growth of unemployment.