Which students should we deny the chance to improve their lot in life?

13 11 2009

Ohio University economist Richard Vedder has never been one of my favorite people in the world. This argument doesn’t exactly endear him to me more:

While it is true that areas with high proportions of college graduates tend to have higher incomes and even higher rates of economic growth than other areas, it does not necessarily follow that mindlessly increasing college enrollments enhances our economic well-being. My own research shows that there generally is a negative relationship between state support for higher education and economic growth. Sending marginal students to four-year degree programs, only to drop out, is a waste of human and financial resources, and lowers the quality of life for those involved.

So which students should we deny the chance to improve their lot in life? The ones from bad school districts who just happen to be poor? And what about the poor students who aren’t marginal, but simply can’t afford college?

The other problem with this argument is that it forgets the rather obvious point that college exists in order to teach people. A good education can turn a marginal student into an excellent student, but Richard Vedder doesn’t want to fork over his tax dollars for something that frivolous. Instead, he’d deny colleges as much money to do their jobs as possible and then argue that they’re failing institutions.

I bet most of Vedder’s students at Ohio University couldn’t sit in his classes without student loans. Yet if Ohio University ever went down the tubes, Vedder’s always got the American Enterprise Institute to break his fall. What do those marginal students have?


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