Book Review: Is College Worth It? (Bennett)

Is College Worth ItHalf of the college graduates in 2010-11 were unemployed or dramatically underemployed in 2013. Student loan debt is mounting for thousands of people across the country. More people are finding it difficult to get a well paying job with only a bachelors degree. Many people know that there are some problems with the American Higher Education System. But few take the time to sit down and really examine the costs and benefits of the American College Dream. To critically assess these issues (and more) comes the latest book from New York Times Best selling author William J. Bennett and David Wilezol, Is College Worth It? A Former United States Secretary of Education and a Liberal Arts Graduate Expose the Broken Promise of Higher Education.

In Is College Worth It? Bennett and Wilezol examine the current situation within American Higher Education, including the increasing costs and decreasing values of a typical American bachelors degree. Using the most thorough and recent studies on the state of education in America, they systematically examine, critique, and offer potential solutions for the growing academic crisis in American education. The purpose of this book is not simply to critique education, expensive education, or even education for educations sake. Instead Bennett and Wilezol seek to pose important questions to those considering college or already participating in the college experience about the real reasons behind their college experiences. Among the most important of these questions is the increasing problem of paying for a four-year degree. Tracing the history of government involvement in the rising costs of education, Bennett and Wilezol lay out a persuasive argument concerning some of the real issues behind the rising costs of higher education.

In contrast to some other recent works, Bennett and Wilezol are not just offering a blind critique of the humanities and social sciences (though they spare no major or program that they see as economically troubled), instead seeking to offer an overarching study on the real impact that a college education has on students. Overall, this study does not indicate that the current state of college education is succeeding, as they write that, “Whether the standard of excellent for higher education is cultivating the mind and the soul or maximizing financial return on investment, most of higher education fails most students.” (IX) Building upon this statement, they argue that the assumptions and status quo of potential students, their parents, and the educational institution are in need of some serious rethinking. On the one hand, parents and students contemplating college need to move beyond peer-pressure and rethink their assumptions that a bachelor’s degree is job training and their financial expectations following the completion of a bachelors degree. On the other hand, most universities and colleges need to offer serious reflection concerning the real purpose of their institutions, whether college is a time to engage in cultural rumshpringa or for students to pursue an education that will be of lasting and practical value for their lives.

Not Sure If College Worth ItIs College Worth It? should be required reading for parents of high schoolers and undergraduates, and for many high school and college students themselves as well. Bennett and Wilezol outline well the abstract and practical ramifications of rethinking the modern American College Dream, asking penetrating questions and backing up their claims with thorough studies and numerous examples. Their language throughout the book is appropriately guarded– as dismal as the picture they are painting looks, the do not seem to overstate their case about the future of American higher education. At the heart of their critique is the two-pronged “Bennett Hypothesis,” which reads as follows: “Allow schools access to free money, and they will increase their fees to increase their revenues. Allow students to set their own academic agendas, and many will choose the easiest course work available.” (135) Until these two problems are addressed, American Higher Education will continue to fail many, if not most, of its students.

There are many worthy components to this book, perhaps the most practically relevant being the appendices, which include a section of hypothetical questions that assist potential college enrollees in critically thinking through their futures. Another helpful section is a list of schools worth attending, a list compiled based upon a number of financial and educational factors. While the entire books seems as if it may be a stretch for some readers (a few of the chapters could have been a bit more succinct), the entirely of the book is worth reading through, especially for parents considering the risks and rewards of a college education for their teen. Overall, then, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Higher Education in the American context, especially those parents and students actively considering their future plans at college.

I received this book from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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