- Failure to disclose. Colleges, for example, hide their obscenely low graduation rates. For example, the four-year graduation rate for full-time freshmen at the 20-campus California State University system, which enrolls nearly a half million students, is only 17%, 40% in five years, 49% in six years. Only a tiny percentage of applicants have been informed of their odds. Such statistics if they appear at all on a college's website are buried in a place that few students find. And college recruiters too rarely mention non-self-serving statistics. If all prospective students were informed, no doubt many fewer would attend.
When a person buys a home, the seller is required to disclose all the home's actual and potential problems or face a lawsuit. A potential investor must be informed of the risks or can sue. I predict that a successful lawsuit could be filed against a college on grounds that it failed both in admitting students it knew were unlikely to succeed and in not disclosing that to them.
In my view, all colleges should be required to prominently post on their website and recruitment brochure its four-, five-, and six-year graduation rate for students with varying high school records.
- Failure to perform. Nationally, college freshman-to-graduation growth in reading, writing, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, etc. is frighteningly low. A study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors failed a test that required them to do such basic tasks as interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, or compare credit card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station. Unbelievably, according to the U.S. Department of Education's most recent Higher Education Commission Report (the Spellings Report,) things are getting even worse: "Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined." According to the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, for instance, the percentage of college graduates deemed proficient in prose literacy has actually declined from 40 to 31 percent in the past decade. Employers report repeatedly that many new graduates they hire are not prepared to work, lacking the critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills needed in today's workplaces."
I predict that a successful lawsuit could be filed on grounds that a college failed to perform. If someone bought a $100,000 car that wouldn't work, he'd demand the dealer fix it, refund the money, or would sue and easily win. Yet colleges too often take $100,000+, years of a student's life, and provide an education that doesn't work. Such students would seem to have a winning lawsuit.
- Deceptive advertising. College recruitment materials (brochures, websites, etc) too often manipulate prospective students into believing that if they graduate, they have a solid chance of being well employed in careers related to their major, even in such long-shot majors as art, music, and journalism. For example, many colleges' recruitment materials profile (complete with color photos) successful graduates. That's often true even when a college knows that most of its graduates (not the mention the non-graduates) will never earn enough money from such majors to even pay back their student loans, let alone earn a middle-class income from art, journalism, music, etc. I believe that a lawsuit claiming deceptive advertising could prevail.
Wake up. Higher education is among the largest purchases and certainly the most time-consuming purchase you'll ever make. Alas, too often it yields a poor return for the time and money invested. Make that purchase at least as carefully as you would a car.
And if you're unhappy with the education you've bought, do what you'd do if your new car was a lemon: demand it be fixed or that you get your money back, and if the college fails to do so, consider suing its Ivy-covered butt.