Opinion: Fix tuition to demand for degree

Lucas+Misera

Lucas Misera

Lucas Misera

Attending college is an investment. Four years of work – and, subsequently, foregoing four years of potential earnings in the workforce – are dedicated to schooling in hopes of big-time earnings in the long run, enough to justify paying five figures annually for tuition expenses.

Being an investment, there is naturally considerable risk involved in pursuing a degree. Given the ever-changing state of the economy, the possibility of graduating college with debt and never being able to pay it off due to underemployment certainly lingers at the forefront of every student’s mind.

But — just as any investor would suggest — every student should be attending school with a particular goal in mind: Strive for the highest returns possible while mitigating risk. As college students, this might mean pursuing degrees that are in high demand, not necessarily ones that sound most appealing for the sake of our own interests.

Yet, universities should be incentivizing this optimal behavior; students should be rewarded for passing on a degree that may make their college studies most enjoyable. How, exactly?

Fix tuition based on projected demand within specific fields.

If STEM-based workers will be hard to come by for the next five years, universities should lower tuition for students who decide to pursue STEM-related degree. Likewise, the tuition should be propped up for the social sciences or liberal arts.

From a broad economic standpoint — depending on how responsive students are to the tiered pricing system – the labor market would adapt in such a way that the pay gap between high-earning fields and low-demand degrees would shrink. As the supply of skilled labor increases, wages — as basic supply-demand economics suggests — would decrease; similarly, the decreased supply of other majors would raise the value of those employees.

Presumably, however, the downward effect on more skilled employees wouldn’t be nearly as drastic as the price increase for less vital employees — though this is purely speculative.

The result would be a country that is allocating its workforce in the most efficient manner possible, boosting productivity and economic growth rates.

Understandably, it’d be an unpopular method of pricing for a college degree — frankly, it sounds a tad Marxist. From a purely economic standpoint, however, a workforce full of technologically-capable and well-educated workers certainly bodes well for a country’s productive capacity.

A labor force littered with workers skilled in art — no matter how important culture may be — may not provide the same utility.

This is precisely why a tiered tuition system makes sense, however radical it sounds. A workforce geared for the future is desirable, and encouraging students to fill potential job openings projected for coming years by offering discounted tuition for those fields would be a route to doing so.

Lucas is the opinion editor, contact him at [email protected]