Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Case Against College

President Barack Obama has declared that his administration aims to make college affordable to everyone by greatly expanding government aid to middle class families. The Washington Post says that Obama's higher education proposals, which include creating a brand new Pell Grant entitlement, "could transform the financial aid landscape for millions of students while expanding federal authority to a degree that even Democrats concede is controversial." But what if President Obama has it backwards? What if America is sending too many people to college?

A recent study found that "Nationally, four-year colleges graduated an average of just 53% of entering students within six years." If 40 percent of students who enter college drop out before graduation and over 50 percent of students take six years to graduate, perhaps Obama is focusing on the wrong issue.

Reason.tv's Michael C. Moynihan sat down with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the American Enterprise Institute's Charles Murray, author of the recent book Real Education, to analyze how Obama's higher-education plans will impact the economic and cultural future of the United States.

Reason.tv video here (Thanks to Russell Harris).

MP: Maybe there is an analogy here: just like the government contributed to (or largely caused) the mortgage tsunami, the housing bubble, and the global financial crisis because of its obsession with home ownership, it might also be likewise contributing to growing problems in higher education because of its obsession with college affordability and college enrollments?

In other words, just like government policies and easy credit "turned good renters into bad homeowners," it might also be "turning good high school graduates into bad college students."

28 Comments:

At 7/14/2009 5:35 PM, Blogger Audacity17 said...

Don't leftists understand that having an education without jobs is irrelevant? Let's choke off investment, savings, capital formation, and productivity to fund higher education....and then wonder why people are underemployed.

 
At 7/14/2009 6:26 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Don't leftists understand that having an education without jobs is irrelevant?

You are kidding: Right? I fight this misconception everyday. There is much more to education than just getting a job or a better job. People make choices in life, and the more one knows, the better choices one often makes. Check out the educational attainment level of your local jail or prison.

Even if you are unemployed, I can't realistically see a downside to education unless student loans make the rest of you life miserable. Just to prove my point, let's work towards everyone getting a college degree and see if we have more or fewer problems in the future.

 
At 7/14/2009 6:34 PM, Blogger Paradigm Shifter said...

Mark, interesting take on the Reason.tv piece. I thought of it in a slightly different manner in a blog post this morning. I can see both points of view with the same conclusion - government should stop picking outcomes via the incentives it creates. Interested in your thoughts.

http://uncommoncentsblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/common-themes-in-cost-inflation.html

In general, I really like your blog content. It is daily reading for me.

 
At 7/14/2009 8:42 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/14/2009 9:19 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...


Blogger Robert Miller said...

So you want to develop a two-tier educational scheme to help employers? Denying access to education while hearing the complaints about there being citizens unable to meet the requirements is contradictory. That sounds like you just want to eliminate citizens from the entire equation. No thank you, but as someone not on the good side of class rankings, you can keep your Brave New World to yourself.


Employers will have to invent new ways to discriminate between apparently equally qualified candidates.

Or they can put up with it and stop trying to act like they're The Almighty.

At this point, it'd make sense to require the use of partial-requirement candidates that are US citizens before any immigrant of temporary/permanent/illegal nature should be given any chance. That way, they can't write their shortages and complain about lack of skill.

 
At 7/14/2009 9:34 PM, Blogger Marko said...

I believe it is by now pretty clear that government subsidies to eduction is the reason why the cost of higher education has skyrocketed. It is no surprise that when backed by the nearly endlessly deep pockets of the government that providers of higher eduction can continually raise prices. It is similar to what is happening in health care. When the person receiving the benefit can make other people pay for it, the price will inevitably rise.

 
At 7/14/2009 9:57 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/14/2009 10:27 PM, Anonymous Benny The Libertarian said...

As libertarians, do we want to answer this question: Should there be any publicly funded colleges, univerisities or college scholarships, and why?
Dr, Perry raises the question as the the level and direction of public funding--but not the existence thereof.
I challenge the existence thereof.
No more tax money for colleges and universities!
(PS: If you make a case for public universities, be aware that others can make similar cases for all sorts of institutions--including national health insurance. I would like to see a stance on principle, not privilege)

 
At 7/14/2009 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Benny -

Once again, you forget that libertarians are in favor of bringing in government to correct for externalities (both positive and negative). The level of participation varies among libertarians and there is certainly room for discussion as to whether the participation should be at the federal, state or local level, but the private sector would provide too little education on its own.

You are allowed your opinion, but you don't seem to have a grip on what libertarians support from government and don't support. You seem to be more of an anarcho-capitalist than a libertarian.

 
At 7/15/2009 12:14 AM, Blogger Audacity17 said...

I posit that as we work towards "everyone having a degree" the standards to attain that degree will drop, and the benefit of having the degree will also drop. The evidence is in...most people who get college degrees now aren't as educated as high schoolers 40 years ago. Most people don't fail out of college, they just don't have the money to finish. The job of today's university is to enroll people and award degrees, not to educate. I reject the notion that college is the only/best place to get an education as well. Bottom line, leftists put too much emphasis on book learning and smarts, not enough on real world experience and entrepreneurial effort. Witness their disdain for Palin and cult worship of Obama.

 
At 7/15/2009 12:35 AM, Blogger sethstorm said...


Not giving someone low-cost loans for education is not the same as "denying" them an education.

But it certainly will (at the slow pace) add to the problem of finding anyone who can meet the requirements. Further, you would only make the job of firms like Grigsby & Cohen's easier to bypass citizens. Finally, it creates a tiered and less flexible society where the unspoken divisions are by educational level.

While it might be economically sound advice, it's politically not feasible.



there are only two ways the market can respond:

The ways that reality does respond is by:
1. Ignoring the illegal immigrant problem and undercutting citizens w/o enforcement of existing laws
2. Influences to use Third World labor by less than honest means (artificial shortages, jobs nobody can qualify, false credentials ignored for sake of more internationals, etc.)


I WORKED.

Indeed the case, but given the experience requirements, that really isn't much of an option if the entry level stuff has been handed to folks overseas(who end up handing it back out of their usual lack of competence).

At the very least I have some industry related experience to add when I do finish my degree.

Instead of questioning the issues of a surplus of degrees, consider combating the outsourcing lobby. They seem to make the problem worse by claiming a shortage that does not exist.

 
At 7/15/2009 5:14 AM, Anonymous Ian Random said...

I was listening to Bill Bennett the other day and he said when he was education Secretary of Education that every time financial aid went up, so did tuition.

 
At 7/15/2009 6:19 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Robert Miller said: ”The relevant question is whether the marginal benefit of education exceeds its marginal cost."

I've had a few economics classes and needed to know that to pass the classes. I have one question: How are you quantifying the benefits of an educated citizenry outside of the labor market? I don't know how to measure that, and if can’t be measured, in economics it can't be counted as a benefit.

I don’t think a proper analysis can be reached to draw a conclusion if all the benefits are not counted and all of the costs are. I’ll keep my earlier unwarranted assumption and therefore still relevant point that someone else’s education surely has perceptible benefits to all.

 
At 7/15/2009 6:55 AM, Blogger rbblum said...

What may be sensible is to create a parallel educational system which would allow a student, via computer based educational programming, to advance to the next higher level of education at his/her own pace.

Should the student graduate ahead of the standardized 12th grade norm then provide to the student a 50% dollar remuneration based on the taxpayer savings of what would have normally been paid to traditional 12 grade school system.

 
At 7/15/2009 7:01 AM, Blogger 1 said...

"Instead of questioning the issues of a surplus of degrees, consider combating the outsourcing lobby. They seem to make the problem worse by claiming a shortage that does not exist"...

Hey sethstorm, why don't quit ovulating and start doing some homework?

Bruce Bartlett noted in a comment almost five years ago the following: The debate over outsourcing needs some facts

"There is much more to education than just getting a job or a better job. People make choices in life, and the more one knows, the better choices one often makes. Check out the educational attainment level of your local jail or prison"...

O.K. Walt G, not a bad argument at all...

Let me ask you this though, how much of YOUR money should be extorted by the federal government to pay for someone else's education?

Washington state could end up with more than $4 billion in aid from the federal government, based on a package being considered in the U.S. House. State officials say the numbers change constantly as proposals move through Congress, but the state could get $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion from a federal stimulus package

 
At 7/15/2009 7:34 AM, Anonymous Γερώνυμος Αμάτι Nώνυμος said...

"
underemployed.

7/14/2009 5:35 PM
Blogger Walt G. said...

Don't leftists understand that having an education without jobs is irrelevant?

You are kidding: Right? I fight this misconception everyday. There is much more to education than just getting a job or a better job. People make choices in life, and the more one knows, the better choices one often makes. Check out the educational attainment level of your local jail or prison.
"

You bet!
What if Madoff had excelled at college? Would he have made more precise choices of career path, selection of friends, choice of books. Lack of educational quality has now crash landed his productivity along with the midair collisions he has perpetrated against us all. Are his billions worth much to him now?

Underemployment is more sinister, more insidious than unemployment. Quality of education is important to proper full employment. What if Nixon had learned at College to enjoy his attainments? Alls he ever understood was grabbing for more until his grabbing finally got him canned. We do need to learn the arts, learn to enjoy what we have built.

That said, we now have new tool of WWW, World Wide Web. Our children can with this tool get more of their education accomplished before puberty distracts their thought processes. If they can get busy early on thus parents can save lot of money as colleges start to downsize. The beauty of internet is its democratization, its free flowing knowledge to all dark corners of caste systems that have crept in for centuries. Although college professors cannot pick up the dropped ball that parents fumbled, they have become indispensable to our complex world.

I second that motion
!

 
At 7/15/2009 7:43 AM, Anonymous John said...

I'd vote for anyone who ran on a ticket to eliminate all public education. I know public school teachers who tell people "don't send your kids here." Some public schools may be doing a decent job, but more often than not, they're doing a terrible job and we're being forced to pay them to do it.

The truth is public funding of most endeavors produces mediocre results. And in the case of education, teachers unions have only exacerbated the problem.

 
At 7/15/2009 8:21 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

1, My state, Michigan, has the dubious distinction of being only 1of 2 states in the country that spends more on prisons than higher education. If data show that education would lead to fewer people in prison, would you agree that would be a good shift of tax dollars?

John, If teachers' unions are the main problem, why are the highest rated schools, public or private, in my county suburban unionized districts? Poverty seems to be the main problem here.

 
At 7/15/2009 9:25 AM, Anonymous Rand said...

WaltG said: Check out the educational attainment level of your local jail or prison.

If I recall correctly, the Unabomber (Theodore Kaczynski, PhD) had a college education and I'll bet that Bernie Madoff did too.

It's not the lack of education that makes a person evil, it is the lack of moral values.

Having too many college graduates merely cheapens the value of a college education. It will be viewed a mere extension of high school.

 
At 7/15/2009 10:14 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Rand, I will not try to explain outliers like Madoff.

Morals = choices and choices = knowledge. I don't believe college is necessary for knowledge but it does provide a structured delivery system that some people need and credentials that others covet.

 
At 7/15/2009 11:33 AM, Anonymous Benny The Libertarian said...

Anon:
I concede that K-12 education for minors who may have parents who do not attend to their education, is necessary. Indeed, I think public K-12 school should be first-rate, very disciplined, and safe.
But why taxpayers should foot the bill for adult education is very questionable, from a libertarian viewpoint.
I suspect our colleges would actually be mcuh better, in a libertarin society. The Boeings, Microsofts, GMs of the world woudl probably help finance excelletn schools to teach scientists and engineers. Perhaps scholarships in exchange for five-year contracts at graduation--something like that.
I contend American "libertarians" are too often just Republicans who want to smoke pot. They want the privileges and public programs, tax breaks and subidies they benefit from, but become "libertarians" or "fre market" intellectuals when it comes to someone else's programs.
I understand externalities very well--pollution comes to mind. There are no free market solutions to pollution, so some regs and taxes are in order.
Adult education? There are free market solutions, and surely public universisties are displaying all the signs of becoming ossified bureacracies that one would expect.
I think the proper libertarian solution is no public higher education. It is a principled position.
Another reality: If we use public tax dollars for higher ed, then we must allow the public to determine curriculum etc., and determine who attends college.
I see women's studies and affirmative action....paid for by you and me.

 
At 7/15/2009 11:34 AM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/15/2009 12:50 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Robert Miller, A very thoughtful and thoroughly researched posting. Thanks. I deeply appreciated it, and I enjoyed reading your reply.

I’m not sure of the marginal benefits from my second master’s degree, but the knowledge I gained from my all of my education enabled me to express myself well enough to get replies to my correspondence from U.S. congressmen and other government officials. Does that benefit society or influence in the officials’ decision-making process? Who knows. I think, but I can’t prove, the external benefits of an educated citizenry are immeasurably very important and worth the cost of the subsidy to society.

Along the same lines, I can’t quantify the benefits of freedom either, but I am glad I have it. Thanks for serving in the armed services.

 
At 7/15/2009 4:34 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...


Bruce Bartlett noted in a comment almost five years ago the following:

This isn't 2004. This is 2009 if you forgot to look. On top of that, you conveniently ignore the work of law firms that go out of their way to avoid US citizens. You completely ignore that part of the picture on how citizens can get degrees but be without work.


Having too many college graduates merely cheapens the value of a college education. It will be viewed a mere extension of high school.

I'd vote for anyone who ran on a ticket to eliminate all public education

Quite the losing bet, given that you would be creating a tiered society; the inflexibility would certainly create solid class divisions. Fine if you like Third World styled education, but this is the United States.


The benefits of education are undeniable. The marginal benefits, though, are undoubtedly declining as education increases. There are certainly external benefits to education at the outset, but at what point do they become too small to subsidize?

At this point, it only makes sense to go deeper. The only time we should stop is when we have problems with having a bumper crop of US citizens graduating from our universities with more than bachelor's degrees. Another sign is when people complain that there are too few Asians in our universities. That is when the job is over-done. We have not reached that point yet.

 
At 7/15/2009 8:22 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/15/2009 9:28 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...


Blogger Robert Miller said...

The only way I could have any support in it is by forcing a choice - abolish the degree requirement for a job (and any possible evasions) or find a way to start funding US citizens who are already eligible for university level education(while keeping admissions policies otherwise consistent and pro-US-citizen).

The only other option I could see is billing the costs after they get the job.

 
At 7/15/2009 11:10 PM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

Federal government edict: All classes will have afternoon start times to allow the large population of nightclub attendees ample bedtimne.

Federal government edict II: A student will graduate when their funding runs out and they feel like it; no exceptions.

It could happen -- why is the federal government involved other then tax credits and verteran benefits?

 
At 7/16/2009 8:17 AM, Blogger Mr. Dart said...

As a parent with multiple college age children the dumbest thing you can do is have savings outside of retirement funds/ real estate and income. Instead of "saving for college", buy the biggest house you can for cash, make less than $40,000/ year and watch the government shower your kids with $$$. It may be a stupid game they've built but only a fool pays for it. (Your kids have to be scholarship-worthy or it doesn't work as well.) Just do one FAFSA and you'll learn a lot about how the game is rigged. Once the kids are out of school you can go back to showing income and moving money out of your house/retirement accounts if you wish.

Now, if all of the other Obama schemes come to pass there will be greater incentives to avoid income...

 

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