Do college degrees really help anyone?

12/29/2013 12:00 AM

12/27/2013 5:13 PM

Excerpted from Thursday’s Chicago Tribune: Higher education is one of the more expensive investments many people will ever make. The average cost of a year in college, including tuition, fees, room and board, now runs about $23,000 – enough to buy a new car. Graduates typically leave with $30,000 each in student loan debt. But cost is just one thing that deserves to be considered when young people decide whether and where to go. Another is what they get for their money. That’s harder to measure. A school that offers mediocre instruction or demands too little of students might leave them poorly equipped for the real world even with their diplomas. Most people hope a college education will help them get a good job. But universities have a broader and deeper mission. Reading Shakespeare is valuable even if it doesn’t strengthen your résumé.

Fortunately, someone has decided to try to figure out what people get out of college, in both tangible and intangible ways. The Gallup polling organization and Purdue University have unveiled a project to survey college grads to find out how they’re doing. Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton and Purdue President Mitch Daniels write in The Wall Street Journal that the survey will ask college graduates questions like: “Are you employed? How much do you earn?” It will also measure the qualities that employers truly value such as a person’s workplace engagement. And it will inquire about community involvement, personal relationships and physical well-being. Purdue will commission a separate survey of its alumni to see how they are doing and how they compare with graduates of other colleges. The first results, based on 30,000 people, should be out in the spring.

This knowledge can only help youngsters and their parents who are making decisions of huge importance for their careers. It also promises to be a spur to schools to learn how their graduates are doing and what professors and administrators can do to improve their outcomes. But more than money and career are relevant. The survey is designed to tell colleges whether they are helping their students achieve the worthwhile, rewarding lives they seek.

Employers are bound to welcome the project. But no one stands to gain more than colleges and those who attend them.

Consumers must demand greater credit card security

Excerpted from Thursday’s Dallas Morning News : News that cybercriminals have put accounts of 40 million customers of retail giant Target at risk is a sober reminder that as much as you might think your credit and debit card transactions are safe from theft, they’re not. Target isn’t the first, or the largest. Nor will it be the last victim of cybercrime, which is growing by leaps and bounds in the United States. For sure, the U.S. is where the money is, but U.S. banks, credit card companies and retailers are woefully behind their European counterparts in tackling this threat. Consumers and lawmakers must demand tighter security on personal information, the theft of which can cause years of misery. Financial networks are more connected than ever, leaving many entry points for thieves to exploit. After dozens of high-profile data breaches in recent years, you’d think retailers and financial institutions would have installed state-of-the-art security technology – especially at the checkout counter.

Unfortunately, many haven’t. Sophisticated fraud prevention technology is expensive, and retailers, banks and credit card companies all want someone else to pay for it. The Nilson Report, which tracks these things, says financial fraud reached a record $11.2 billion last year. That’s a staggering figure to the average person but only amounts to about 5.2 cents for every $100 transaction. Companies often chalk up this loss as a cost of doing business or pass along the expense to consumers.

As a customer, you should find this a maddening and unacceptable calculation. If a breach causes you to be a victim of identity theft, you can be sure that your retailer, bank or credit rating agency will not be of much help. You'll be on your own to straighten out your financial life.

In Europe, credit cards store encrypted information digitally on embedded computer chips, which generate a unique code every time the card is swiped. Card fraud has dropped in Europe but continues to rise in the United States. That’s because the magnetic stripe on our credit and debit cards is a decades-old technology easy to copy.

Target is telling customers that they won’t be responsible for fraudulent, unauthorized charges and is discounting purchases to placate consumers. JPMorgan Chase has limited the amount of cash withdrawals available to Target customers as a precaution. On the legal front, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is demanding a federal probe into the breach, at least four state attorneys general have sought answers from Target, and class-action lawsuits from consumers are underway.

Acting after the fact is not enough. We live in a plastic society, so it is unrealistic to ask consumers not to use debit or credit cards. It is entirely reasonable to demand that banks and retailers do much more to protect customers.

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