A Book Summary

College (Un)bound
By:  Jeffrey J. Selingo
Published, 2013 by Amazon and
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, New York, NY

College UnBound is a book that any parent who has a child ready for college now or within the next two years ought to read.  The cost of college is drainage many parent's wallet and/or leaving the student with an average of $25,000 in debt by graduation.

Jeffrey J. Selingo is editor at large of the Chronicle of Higher Education and he argues that American higher education is broken.  Many universities are in financial trouble.

About College Unbound

Some Facts

Tips from College UnBound

NOTE:  This is a summary of College UnBound.  All of the information below can be found in the book. Any references to statistics or research can also be found in the book.


Only slightly more than 50% of students who enter college leave with a bachelor’s degree.  The United States ranked #1 among developed nations in higher education in 1995.  Today the US ranking is #12 among 17 developed nations.

The bachelor’s degree has become the new high school diploma.  The master’s degree is now the new bachelor’s degree.  The number of people holding a master’s degree today is equal to the number of people who had bachelor degrees in 1960.

According to the research that Selingo did, more than 1 in 5 sales and clerical personnel have a college degree and 1 in 20 laborers.  In 2010, the US Department of Education added 300 new majors to a list of 1,400.  The fastest growing fields are biology/biological sciences, foreign languages/linguistics and the health field.

High school graduates today make an average of $19,000.  A high school graduates only makes $.67 cents to every dollar that a college graduate earns. According to the Pew Research Center, one in four college graduates making less than $50,000 annually say their degree was a “bad deal.”


The first part of College UnBound is about “The Lost Decade”.  Selingo explains how colleges “lost their way” in the last decade by trying to keep up with their more extravagant competitors and how that competition has hurt almost every college as well as how colleges are now viewed by the consumer.

The second part of the book is about how the traditional college is changing, or how it needs to change to keep up with the new comers, the on-line for profit schools.  Selingo discusses new pathways to obtaining the “almighty” credentials outside of the traditional setting of an university.

Selingo also explains in College UnBound the new competency-based education, mainly on-line, where a student can learn at their own pace, begin classes as soon as he finishes one and how a person can earn credentials for work experience.  These are all new concepts in higher education.

Selingo explores the value of a bachelor’s degree at a state university versus getting one at a private college.  He discusses how to pick a major  that will fit the economy so that there will be a likely chance of getting a job upon graduation.

Part One - College UnBound

One reason the cost of college has been rising is that fewer students are going to college. The rising costs aren’t spent on better teachers, or professors.  Many colleges are spending upwards of a half a million ($500,000) to market itself.  45 college presidents make over $1 million a year.  Over 31,000 college professors are in the top 1% income bracket.

Another reason why college is so expensive is that they (colleges) try to out do the next.  Every year U.S. News ranks public  and private universities.  One way a college betters itself in these rankings is determined by who receives the most federal dollars.  Many colleges have built expensive medical research facilities in hopes to gain not only the high ranking but also federal grant monies.

For instance, in 2010, New York City offered $100 million dollars and prime land to any university that would build a new campus in the city.  Cornell won the bid and plans to spend $2 billion over the next 30 years. 

Part Two - College UnBound

Colleges are slow to change with the times.  Traditions are important to them.  Universities have a monopoly on the “credentials market”.  Alternative on-line schools work for many people, especially when the courses are free, but most employers are still looking for those “credentials” from a known university. 

Many people are obtaining another degree because they feel forced to do so if they want to be competitive.  However, Selingo says that only a few courses may be what they need but that employers still rely on college credentials.

Selingo introduces the reader to different types of on-line education courses which in some cases are only $99. However, most of these type of courses are not accredited and therefore the student can't receive government student loans.

For instance, many graduates who can’t find a job they desire go back to school to earn the next degree, then another and finally go for the ultimate PhD hoping that these credentials will help land the job of their dreams only to find that they are “over qualified” for any job and not only have a lesser job than they dreamed but now have a hefty school loan of usually over $100,000 or more.

Tips from College UnBound

Visiting the College

Visit a college during the school year not in the summer. Also, take time to sit in on one or two classes to see if the style of teaching is compatible to the way you learn. Be informed about the institution.  Ask questions about graduation rates, professors versus adjuncts and high school courses needed to gain admittance for the degree seeker.

Picking the College

So many times parents and students pick a college based on all of the bells and whistles like the new football stadium, the dining hall, the dorms, and all other non-education services that universities tend to promote these days.  Selingo advises to make sure you look first at the quality of education they will receive and how that will translate into a job.

The Loan

So what should a loan amount look like?  The federal government says that no more than 15% of your income should go towards paying off a student loan debt.  Another suggestion—the total amount of the student loan should not exceed what you will make your first year on a job after graduating.

Best Value

The best value for the money?  Community colleges make up the largest type of college in the United States.  Why?  The average price of a community college is $3,000.  Compare that to $8,000/year at a 4 year college excluding room and board.

Also the programs at a community college are more aligned with the local and regional economy.  Community colleges offer classes that train the students for new jobs.  Community colleges takes the pulse of the businesses in its area and responds to what they need.

Bottom Line?

The average American changes jobs about every four years. Picking a major today, may not get you that dream job four years after graduation.  So what is the best general degree? Perhaps a liberal arts degree.  Employers and educators said it is more important that workers have the ability to learn how to learn and are capable of finding answers.

“Going to college is worth it but doing it expensively might not make a lot of sense. Justin Wolfers, associate professor of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania. "Before someone enrolls in college, they should know why they are pursuing the major they’ve chosen.  If a person can’t answer that question, then perhaps an alternative on-line school, community college or a temporary job is a better option."

College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students

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