On July 1st, Larry Bacow, former chancellor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former president of Tufts University, will succeed his longtime friend Drew Faust to become Harvard's 29th president. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette, Bacow and Faust agree on one important issue: Americans need to reconsider how they think about college.
The biggest challenge facing higher education in the U.S. is "skepticism about the value of higher education, and skepticism about higher education's product: facts, science, knowledge, an educated citizenry that is not just narrowly trained but broadly educated," says Faust. "We have to make a case for all of those things, and a lot of our other challenges derive from the reality that I just described."
Bacow concurs: "I think as the real cost of higher education has increased, people have adopted more of a consumerist or instrumental approach to higher education. 'What does it do for me? What's the return on it in the very narrow, short-term?'"
Indeed, today there is a small but vocal group of high-profile figures arguing that higher education is overvalued and that "college is not for everyone."
While sky-high tuition costs make this theory attractive, numerous studies show that going to college is one of the surest ways to access secure employment, higher lifetime earnings and longer life expectancy. Furthermore, at highly-selective institutions like Harvard, students often pay much less than the shocking sticker price.