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…