A vicious circle.

26 10 2010

So Richard Vedder thinks that higher education is ineffective:

Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree…

Increasingly, state governments are cutting back higher-education funding, thinking it is an activity that largely confers private benefits. The pleas of university leaders and governmental officials for more and more college attendance appear to be increasingly costly and unproductive forms of special pleading by a sector that abhors transparency and performance measures.

I thought state governments were cutting back on higher education because the economy tanked two years ago, but maybe Vedder is too well-paid to even notice that. So why quibble? Let’s look at Vedder’s premise:

Fewer people should get college degrees. Which ones? How exactly are we going to know who the bartenders are going to be they start college? And, as Dana suggests at the Edge of the American West, how do we know those bartenders are even failures?

More importantly, I wouldn’t be so sure that the cutting back on state funding is going to lead to Vedder’s expected outcome. With less income from the state, colleges will be more likely to increase tuition and enrollments in order to meet that shortfall. Since college remains the best investment you will ever make, people will likely just go out and borrow more money to attend it. If the federal government destroyed every student loan program it ran, the private sector would jump right in and make those loans themselves (at a much higher interest rate), particularly since defaulting on a student loan is a lot like signing your life away.

The other possible outcome of trying to keep people out of college is that cash-strapped administrators will try to do more with less. See Exhibit A, California:

In the face of growing demand, limited infrastructure, and diminishing funds for state-supported higher education, some experts believe the only way California’s higher ed system can continue fulfilling its mission is by expanding its online offerings.

A new report, released Monday by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, calls for the state legislature to explore a number of moves toward this end — including facilitating the sharing of online courses across public university and community college campuses; evaluating potential online “re-entry” programs for former dropouts looking to finish their degrees; and allowing adult learners who are approved for in-state grants to attend Western Governor’s University, an online institution based in Utah.

I can’t think of a better way to produce more bartenders. It’s a vicious circle that kind of reminds me of the modern Republican Party’s views about the role of government in society, but that’s a subject for a blogger with more time and a stronger stomach than I have at present. Maybe after the midterm election is over…




7 responses

26 10 2010

What is classed as “higher education” is now largely an ineffective means of acquiring a job that pays enough to be worth the investment in time and money to get that education.

There’s too many people with college degrees for the market demand. This is especially true for “fuzzy subject” degrees and those degrees where a BA / BS is not enough to secure a worthwhile position.

Essentially, a college degree – what most seek by way of investment – isn’t worth near what it used to be.

26 10 2010
Vanessa Vaile

good thing then that’s not why I got mine

26 10 2010

Yes it is, Ms. Vaile. Sadly, the degree is what most seek, not the education, and so many degrees don’t have a good employment track.

26 10 2010
Jonathan Rees


The problem with your assessment is that people who have degrees of any kind are doing much better than those without any form of higher education in this recession. The plural of anecdote is not evidence.

26 10 2010

You might want to look at this: http://www.changinghighereducation.com/2010/10/the-college-board-has-recently-published-an-interesting-report-entitled-education-pays-2010-the-benefits-of-higher-education.html

I don’t dispute that the average college grad has a better chance of making more money and, if already employed, has a better chance of keeping his or her job right now than the average high school graduate or drop-out.

That doesn’t change the fact that those degreed jobs aren’t as good as they used to be (not even keeping up w/ CPI anymore) and prices of degrees are rising steadily and sharply.

Face it, if your job market is shrinking and your pay is not keeping up with inflation, what’s your final “take home” after accruing all the debt that most students must these days? It be interesting to compare that to the “lesser educated” in their “lower” scale jobs w/o that student loan debt.

26 10 2010

BTW: I don’t have a degree but have spent a couple of decades auditing courses and studying those topics that interest me. I’m a big fan of education; I’m just sold on the “degree as ticket to affluence” mindset that as become so prevalent.

I’m also a statistical outlier. I make six figures off my employment and a bit more of various side projects and investments.

26 10 2010

That should have been “NOT sold on…” Sorry.

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