Free Markets, Free People

Is “Higher Education” more of a rip-off than a benefit today?

Well you have to ask yourself what you get for the money when you purchase anything don’t you?  I mean isn’t that how you make buying decisions for the most part?  You weigh the advantage the purchase makes in your life and you figure out whether or not parting with your money justifies the supposed benefits.

In the case of higher education in this country, it’s my guess we passed the point of diminishing returns eons ago.  A college degree just isn’t what used to be a few decades ago, but it costs a hell of a lot more.  Jack Kelly fills us in:

Tuition and fees at colleges and universities rose 439 percent between 1982 and 2007. Median family income rose just 147 percent during that period.

Median household income has fallen 6.7 percent since June 2009. The cost of attending the average public university rose 5.4 percent this year.

Student loan debt recently passed $1 trillion. It’s now more than credit card debt. The average graduate of a four-year college owes $27,000.

So you have a cost that has risen far and away faster than inflation and median family income for, well, no good reason that I know of.

Oh wait, I said “good reason”.  There is a reason.   Can you say “subsidy”?  That coupled with the myth that a college degree … any college degree … is worth its weight in future gold.  But it appears that gold may be fool’s gold. 

I love this description of what many institutions of “higher learning” have become:

College students don’t get much for their money. Nearly half learn next to nothing in their first two years; a third learn almost nothing in four, according to a report authored principally by Prof. Richard Arum of New York University.

"Students who say that college has not prepared them for the real world are largely right," said Ann Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. "The fundamental problem here is not debt, but a broken educational system that no longer insists on excellence."

Or even adequacy. "A college degree nowadays doesn’t necessarily signal that its holder has any useful work skills," said Charlotte Allen of the Manhattan Institute.

"For decades our schools have abandoned the teaching of basic facts and foundational thinking skills, and replaced both with leftish received wisdom and stale mythologies, all the while they have anxiously monitored and puffed up students’ self esteem," said classics Prof. Bruce Thornton of California State University Fresno.

I agree totally with Ms. Neal.  There is no insistence on excellence.  That’s not true of every institution out there, obviously.

However a look at the various new degree programs provides a peek into the priorities of the schools.  To broaden and accept as many students as they can to also broaden the revenue stream they’re provided.  The unique offerings are most likely not made to produce anything meaningful in academia and certainly not in the real world, but they do attract a certain type of student to such a degree program that is fully willing to buy into the myth that somehow a degree in gender studies is going to be useful and are willing to pay the big bucks demanded (even if that means borrowing them). 

And, of course, government subsidizes the purchase, so there’s certainly no reason for the school to back off such a useless program or lower it’s price to something roughly equivalent to its utility in the real world.

What happens?  Precisely what you’d think would happen.  Its much like the housing crisis.  Loans are given to people who aren’t really capable of college work.  They leave with nothing or some marginal degree and huge debt. 


Others graduate to find there are no jobs for them. Roughly 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates since 1992 work in low-skill jobs, Prof. Richard Vedder of Ohio University discovered. In 2008, 318,000 waiters and waitresses had college degrees, as did 365,000 cashiers and 18,000 parking lot attendants.

Because degrees have been so diluted and their worth so compromised over the years, they’re less and less of a guarantee of a good job and better wages.

But because government subsidizes education and distorts the market, guess what?

And, according to a study by the American Enterprise Institution and the Heritage Foundation, teachers are paid $120 billion over market value.

There is fraud at every level of the education system, thanks mostly to politics, said Herbert London, professor emeritus at New York University. Teachers and professors go along to save their jobs.

"They simply cannot say that college isn’t for everyone … or that rigorous exit requirements at any level do not exist," he said. "Hence, there is the clarion call for more money."

Of course they can’t.  The gravy train is just too rich to quit.

And, you also need to understand what is actually happening in colleges and universities across the nation to appreciate the full impact of this market intrusion by government.  Colleges, as mentioned, no longer demand excellence.  Instead, they spend an enormous amount of time and effort teaching what a college student should have mastered before ever showing up at a university:

We spend about $10,600 per pupil in public schools, 377 percent more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than we spent in 1961. Yet among students who go to college, 75 percent require some remedial work.

If you managed to catch some of the protests in WI that included teachers and caught the spelling on some of their signs, the stats above wouldn’t particularly surprise you.  We spend more on education today and and get even less than in the past.  What you have to remember is that at every level it is either run by or subsidized by government.

Now at every level, we’re seeing the results of that sort of intrusion, aren’t we?  A dismal record of extraordinarily expensive non-achievement.  And nothing is going to change or improve in that regard as long as government stays in charge and subsidizes the growing bubble with your money.

But you’ll never hear that said, will you?


Twitter: @McQandO

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10 Responses to Is “Higher Education” more of a rip-off than a benefit today?

  • There was a story the other week how the South Koreans have 40% of last year’s graduates unemployed. Their quest to give more students than ever a higher education clearly seems to reached the point of diminishing returns.
    In the US, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students still have an edge, but the days of using an Ivy League “liberal arts” diploma to guarantee a great future are starting to fade.

    • @Neo_

      For a couple decades, a “liberal arts” degree was mostly only usable (I said MOSTLY) for government work, or the bureaucracy in the corporate world.

      Does anyone have metrics on what percentage of the corporate world was bureaucracy in 1950, 1970, 1990, compared to today?

  • My father and my uncles were mere high school graduates in turn-of-the-century Kansas, and they could discuss history, literature, science, economics,etc.

    Today, our “yoots” with college degrees, even Master’s degrees, can’t discuss much beyond sports or entertainment.

    • @Sharpshooter Yes a high school education now in days does not prepare one for life. And what passes for a college education is often no more than specific job training.

      I felt somewhat superior to my classmates who were in specialized fields like accounting because with an Economics degree I had to take a lot of history, psychology, anthropology, sociology. Business courses, management, as well as calculus and statistics.

      I felt like I really got an education, although not necessarily a great one.

  • Well, we get constant samples of the thought quality of at least one professor here on a regular basis. I prefer to think he’s an outlier in every sense of the word, but perhaps not. Certainly someone teaches those courses, and offers those major in useful societal degrees like “gender studies” and “critical dance”, so it is demonstrably more widespread than just one professor here, one professor there. There have to be ‘departments’ of them and they have to have convinced the curriculum committees of universities and colleges that they serve a useful purpose. That in itself is scary.

  • My advice to all young people today is that if you are already certain that you want to go into a profession. If you have a passion for that profession, then by all means find a good affordable college, apply for any aid you can get, take time off and work if you have to, but do not borrow any money.

    But if you are not certain of what you want to do in your life then do not go to University full time. Take a few courses in different things at a community college or online, work, take a trip to another country, join the armed forces.

    Plenty of time to go to college later when you discover your passion.

  • Several thoughts…
    There are still schools known for excellence. Texas A&M is one in several fields. You can gauge this readily by reading recruiting data.

    Many university degrees REQUIRE five years currently, padded with pure crap as part of their “core curriculum”, which has the effect of making the whole deal more expensive. This is elitist cost imposition at its worst.

    Many of the degrees offered are worthless in any world in which reality reigns. (Erp…???)

  • In my experience there is plenty of value to be obtain from college but there is more crap than ever to sift through and avoid. One can get a stellar education from a reasonably priced (relatively speaking) state school and a lot of the value you obtain has to do with the effort you put into it. There is clearly massive inflation in higher ed and it will be interesting to see what happens when the bubble bursts.